Saks Afridi: SpaceMosque 

June 22 - October 19, 2024

Imagine that a spectacular Vessel—a SpaceMosque—arrives from the future, granting all humans on Earth one prayer manifested every 24 hours. The structure is a portal that appears in many iterations, using a divine algorithm to adjust its appearance to each seeker. Prayer becomes the ultimate currency, leading to both great miracles and great tragedies until the object disappears and its existence is wiped from collective memory. 

For Saks Afridi’s first U.S. museum solo exhibition, he offers us SpaceMosque, a futuristic world in which he fuses Islamic mysticism, South Asian folklore, architecture, and technology in a genre he dubs “Sci-Fi Sufism.” The exhibition investigates intersections of capitalism and spirituality, historical record and imagination, and the physical and emotional limits of materiality. Afridi began this work in 2017, and has continued to create photographs, artifacts, and collaborative multimedia objects that merge nostalgia with futurism to actualize the SpaceMosque phenomenon.

A core tenant of Sufism hinges on self-understanding—that a journey of introspection leads to an understanding of the divine. Informed by a background in marketing and design as well as a global upbringing,  Afridi creates an experience that invites viewers to dream, wonder, imagine, and reflect. If you encountered the SpaceMosque, what would you pray for? What consequences might your prayer have on your own life? On humanity?

Take for example the Hawa Sandals, made in collaboration with the shoe manufacturer Markhor. Afridi imagines that “a boy in Peshawar, Pakistan, whose parents were separated, prayed desperately for a way to visit his father in Kohat. The next day, his prayer was answered, and his sandals had grown wings. He called them his Hawa Sandals—literally, ‘wind/air sandals.’ They flew him many miles every night to see his beloved father. When the spaceship left the skies, the sandals lost their ability to fly.” 

By incorporating traditional decorative vocabulary and elements of contemporary culture, Afridi expands our understanding of a progressive and often misrepresented religion. Islamic art is often relegated to an exotic “other” that exists only to be collected, exploited, and owned. Yet Afridi offers “neo-artifacts” that can galvanize nuanced conversations about ancestral and familial ties, contemporary identity within a living tradition, and world-building beyond colonial frameworks. 

— Sadaf Padder, curator

THE STORY OF SPACEMOSQUE

“If all your prayers were answered, would it change the world, or just yours?” 

— Unknown

Around the turn of the millennium, a global phenomenon occurred that has since been erased from our memories. A large Vessel hovered soundlessly in the skies over Karachi, Pakistan. This stunning phenomenon grew in a matter of days, as the Vessel appeared over other cities, villages, and towns. It was seen simultaneously by everyone around the world, but each person saw something different. Some saw an elaborate minaret. Others described a magnificent winged butterfly. The Vessel seen over Karachi was described as a futuristic mosque. This phenomenon of the Vessel became known as SpaceMosque. 

What SpaceMosque did upon its arrival was to answer one prayer for each human being on the planet every 24 hours. The Vessel was a spiritually conscious spaceship, an energy station, and a prayer gateway. Its divine algorithms and foresight technology determined the selection of prayers it chose to answer.

During its time hovering over the Earth, the Vessel answered billions of prayers. Our global reality changed overnight. The impact of the Vessel’s arrival led to both great miracles and great tragedies. Greed and morality were at constant war, and prayer eventually became a de facto universal currency.

As abruptly as it appeared, the Vessel vanished. People’s memories of its existence vanished, too, save for a few remnants of glitched stories and artifacts spread around the globe. We do not know the reason for the Vessel’s arrival or departure, but our research findings reveal that global riots resulting from the commodification of prayers may have led to the latter. A popular theory among researchers is that enough people on the planet prayed for the Vessel to leave and all to be forgotten. Others believe that perhaps it was just a divine experiment. 

This exhibit is one of the first times that SpaceMosque artifacts and discoveries are being shared with the world. Most of the objects you see have been retrieved from sources in Pakistan and Egypt. More data from Europe and the Americas is emerging every day. You are invited to decipher this forgotten era.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

My work exists in a genre I call “Sci-Fi Sufism,” which is about discovering galaxies and worlds within yourself. I try to visualize this search by fusing mysticism and storytelling. I make art objects in multiple mediums, drawing inspiration from Sufi poetry, South Asian folklore, Islamic mythology, science fiction, architecture, and calligraphy.

My practice also investigates the life of an “Insider Outsider.” I define this as achieving a sense of belonging while feeling out of place, finding happiness in a state of temporariness, and re-contextualizing dominant historical and cultural narratives with contemporary ones. 

I often collaborate with painters, architects, artisans, fashion designers, 3D modelers, and fabricators to bring my ideas to life. I come to artmaking with a background in advertising; maybe that is why collaboration feels natural  to me.

I was born in Peshawar, Pakistan, and studied advertising at the Academy of Art in San Francisco and later sculpture at the Art Students League of New York. I speak English, Urdu, Pashto, and conversational Arabic. I’m a proud recipient of multiple Cannes Lions awards, a D&AD Pencil Award, a One Show Pencil Award, and a United Nations Award for Peace and Understanding from the U.N. Department of Public Information. My work has been featured in Artforum and The New York Times and on  the BBC, Al Jazeera, CNN, and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

ABOUT THE CURATOR

Sadaf Padder is a Brooklyn-based independent curator, writer,  and community organizer. She focuses on excavating under-recognized contemporary art movements and histories related to the South Asian and Caribbean diasporas. She has curated exhibits across the country, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to Martha’s Vineyard, weaving connections between various communities by highlighting themes of social justice, futurism, radical liberation movements, climate change, and neo-mythology. 

Informed by a background as a public-school educator and administrator, Padder maintains a dedicated community-based practice where she develops youth arts programs and internships. Her curatorial work has earned mentions in LA Weekly, Hyperallergic, and ARTnews, and resulted in acquisitions of work by BIPOC women artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art, Northwestern University, the Nion McEvoy Foundation, and private collections, including that of Everette Taylor, CEO of Kickstarter. 

Padder has contributed writing to Visual AIDS, Artsy, Up magazine, and Hyperallergic. She is a Create Change alumna with the Laundromat Project, a featured curator with Artsy, and a 2022-23 Emily J. Hall Tremaine Journalism Fellow though Hyperallergic, for which she presented research on South Asian Futurisms. She is a board member of the Vera List Center for Art and Politics as well as a co-director of Grown in Haiti, a reforestation organization located in the mountains of Jacmel.

RELATED EVENTS

June 22, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. — Opening of Eight New Exhibits
August 29, Thursday, 7:30 p.m. — Art Talk: Saks Afridi and Sadaf Padder
October 4, Friday, 5 p.m. — Gallery Walk: Recalling Your Own SpaceMosque

IN THE GIFT SHOP
Hawa Sandals: A Sci-Fi Art Sandal with Sneaker Comfort | Made in collaboration with Craftpur.

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