Unveiling light, discovering wonder: A review of Sarah Ahmad’s Cosmic Veils

By: Lauren Hutson (BFA ’21), art major at The University of Tulsa

Cosmic Veils by Tulsa Artist Fellow Sarah Ahmad is a vividly colored, interactive installation on view at The University of Tulsa’s Alexandre Hogue Gallery. Comprised of hundreds of intricately cut acrylic discs, the work adorns all corners of the gallery as it hangs from the ceilings, cascades across the walls and rests on the floor. Each piece of Veils is striking, detailed and geometric, exploding into kaleidoscopic patterns of color when struck by lights. As they walk through the space, viewers are invited to shine flashlights around the otherwise darkened gallery, creating unlimited possibilities of interstellar light projections.

Sarah Ahmad’s Cosmic VeilsMuch like a nighttime gaze at the stars or a trip to see the Northern Lights, Ahmad’s work brings magic to the mundane and offers its audience a much-needed moment of stillness and a pause for reflection. Thematically, the work is inspired by the Western Veil of the Veil Nebula. Given that these beautiful nebulas are born from the explosive deaths of supernovas, Cosmic Veils’ elegance and inspiration is particularly poignant in a time of unprecedented social anxiety and uncertainty. A trip through the installation grants viewers a space in which to meditate on their surroundings and reflect on the unique circumstances our culture is facing.

Ahmad’s works often deal with the complexities of identity, trauma, refuge and ultimately, resurrection. In the artist statement, Ahmad reflects on the significance and symbolism of a veil: veils can protect us from the outer world, but they can just as easily mask our true selves. There can be discomfort in unveiling our pain, past and present, but from these difficult moments we can create something new and something beautiful. As the stars die and transform to reveal new wonders, we, too, can evolve into a brighter and freer state. The ability to grow and adapt, to recognize pain and revamp one’s world, is central to the magic of the exhibition.

Whether resting on the floor to gaze up at Cosmic Veils or roaming around the gallery in search of a new view, each person’s encounter with the installation is wholly unique and peaceful. While some interactive art installations require intense focus and involvement, which can sometimes pull from the overall enjoyment of the work, Cosmic Veils allows for a dreamy and otherworldly walk through that can be u passively or through more immediate interaction. Each new angle of light and every shadow cast is singular and remarkable, a fleeting moment to be cherished only be the present observer.

Sarah Ahmad’s Cosmic VeilsHuman touch and individual impact are present not only in viewers’ flashlight projections, but also in the installation process. This exhibition is site-specific, as Ahmad and her team hung the work without an explicit blueprint, altering its appearance as needed. Ahmad went into the construction process with a layout in mind but allowed herself and her assistants to collaborate in the exact placement and configuration of the pieces, resulting in a communal collage of shape and hue. The unique assembly and display of the work mirrors its concept and broader sentiments – ever evolving and incomparable. In the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, it is particularly special to be able to experience this work in a physical space. TU community members and visitors are welcome to tour the gallery and interact with the work first hand. For people unable to visit in person, an array of images and videos of the installation are available online. Although Cosmic Veils is still stunning through the haze of a digital screen, to stroll through the gallery is to be present in your own micro galaxy. Ahmad’s installation transports us to a space unlike our own, one in which color rains over us and time slows, a space where fear dissipates and true beauty is unveiled.

Cosmic Veils is available for viewing by members of the TU community during gallery hours. Images and videos of the installation are available through Ahmad’s website and the School of Art, Design and Art History’s social media pages. Cosmic Veils was made possible through the support of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship and TU.