Photo: Alex Billingham.
Contemporary Exhibitions

Sophia-Layla Afsar, Alex Billingham
…as we gathered on the shards of a fallen mirror ball

Floor 4

Co-curated with Aziz Sohail, this exhibition brings together new works by Sophia-Layla Afsar (based in Karachi, Pakistan) and Alex Billingham (based in the West Midlands, UK).


In October 2022, Layla and Alex were each awarded back to back three month residences at Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture, Karachi and at The New Art Gallery Walsall respectively.  The Belonging/Disbelonging residences, supported by the British Council’s International Collaborations Grants, were intended to connect queer practices in the UK and Pakistan, facilitating visibility, dialogue and debate across global communities with a focus on inclusivity, care and kindness.  The artists presented an exhibition together at IVS Gallery, Karachi in February 2023 and we are delighted to present their exhibition here in Walsall, which presents commissioned film work created since the residences by each artist and presented in an immersive environment that has been developed collaboratively.

Working across a wide range of media, Layla’s practice prioritises emotional care, with a focus on co-nurturing psychological safety as a necessity for creative expression.  An important element of her work has been to look at play as a mediator of safety and belonging.  She has facilitated Open Play Studios in which visitors are encouraged to play and interact, blurring the lines between artist and audience.  For Layla, play has become a way to think about the possibilities of an authentic childhood, with ideas of exploration and childlike wonder being an important component.

Through her practice, Alex explores how genderqueer, trans and disabled identities collide and intermingle.  Her theatrical film works are based on performances using costumes, sets and props and celebrate trans joy, whilst acknowledging the privilege of UK legal protection and the pain that shadows queer existence.  She has been inspired by the idea of transuranic elements which are synthetic, unstable and decaying but are also fantastic elements that enrich and save our lives.  She regards this as a fabulous trans allegory!

The Belonging/Disbelonging residences were funded by the British Council International Collaboration Grants, which are designed to support the UK and overseas organisations to collaborate on international art projects.

We are grateful to The Charles Wallace Pakistan Trust for supporting Layla’s visit to Walsall.

Exhibition preview

Thursday 25 January 2024, 6 – 8pm

Free, all welcome

In Conversation

Saturday 27 January 2024, 2pm. Free

Join artists Sophia-Layla Afsar and Alex Billingham in conversation with co-curator Aziz Sohail.

Please note: To ensure the event is a safe space for everyone, only the main, in conversation portion of the event will be filmed with the artists and curator.