February 24, 2024


masterpiece of human

Shahzia Sikander’s Radical Take on Traditional Arts


HOUSTON — Shahzia Sikander’s exhibition Extraordinary Realities, at present on view at the Museum of Good Arts, Houston, is a complex organism. Much like Sikander’s artworks on their own, every single room bursts with an array of themes in several mediums. The exhibition handles the initially 15 many years of the artist’s profession. Ranging from conventional manuscript paintings to tracing paper drawings to movie projection, the pieces on screen are at once intricate and expansive, historic nonetheless thoroughly present-day.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1969, Sikander attained international focus in the 1990s as she pioneered new approaches to miniature painting, recontextualizing regular representations of race, gender, and national id. The 1st room of Amazing Realities showcases a collection of detailed watercolors in the fashion of Islamic and South Asian manuscript paintings from the 16th by means of 19th generations. Packed with existence, these operates hassle the class of “miniature” that this inventive practice was assigned by European tradesmen in the 1700s, resisting their compact variety. 

Shahzia Sikander, “The Scroll,” depth (1989-90), vegetable shade, dry pigment, and watercolor, and on tea-stained wasli paper. Collection of the Artist (© 2021 Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London) Assortment of the Artist (© 2021 Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London)

Some of Sikander’s miniatures expose a connection to Houston. A previous Main Fellow at the MFAH’s Glassell Faculty, she has a special romance to the city. “Eye-I-ing All those Armorial Bearings” (1989–97) centers a portrait of legendary community artist Rick Lowe, who co-started the corporation Job Row Homes in Houston’s primarily African American 3rd Ward. A collection of joined illustrations or photos — shields, animals, and a small portray of the row homes by themselves — varieties a type of holy iconography around Lowe aimed at countering racist depictions of Blackness in classical European artwork. Sikander maintains that she is enthusiastic by “an urgent reexamination of colonial and imperial stories of race and illustration.” This re-envisioning is enacted below by the use of circles, meant to symbolize distinctive “lenses” to see the earth.

In accordance to an essay that scholar Gayatri Gopinath wrote for Sikander’s exhibition catalogue, the artist’s use of a traditional medium refuses neat categories of gender and nationhood, flipping assumptions of the historical earlier as the web page of cultural authenticity. Gopinath asserts that Sikander’s flip to classic kinds is “radically anti-nostalgic in that she both utilizes and deconstructs the idiom of Indo-Persian miniature portray in buy to envision a diverse current and future.”

Shahzia Sikander, “Separate Doing the job Points I” (1993-95), vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, gold paint on tea-stained wasli paper. Private selection (© 2021 Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London)

Gopinath goes on to argue that Sikander’s recurring image of a floating, headless lady with roots for ft exemplifies an aesthetic of queer diaspora that elides straightforward definitions of home and spot. In the book Islamic Artwork: Earlier, Existing, Upcoming (2019), Sikander explained this root-baring, floating woman figure as “self-nourishing,” a sort of alternative deity that “refuses to belong, to be mounted, to be grounded, to be stereotyped.” This deity can be almost everywhere at as soon as, and eludes any defined identity.  

Themes of queer desire continue in Sikander’s portray “Cholee Kay Peechay Kiya? Chunree Kay Neechay Kiya?” (What Is under the Blouse? What Is under the Costume?) (1997), which photographs a multi-limbed, gender-fluid determine. As Gopinath argues, the piece nods to a scene of queer longing in the 1993 Bollywood film Khalnayak in which two women of all ages seductively dance alongside one another. This get the job done, like a lot of some others of Sikander’s, both equally conceals and reveals queer longing in basic sight. This intricately rendered participate in with visibility powerfully questions what has traditionally been considered legible wish.

The second area of Extraordinary Realities focuses on the get the job done Sikander built soon after she moved to New York in 1997. She began to experiment with new mediums and tactics, such as layered tracing paper drawings and clay-coated paper drawings. In the wake of 9/11, she further more navigated the questions world economics, class, race, gender, and capitalism. These performs refer to popular iconography both from Pakistan and the West: “Mind Games” (2000), a retelling of Jangir Gets Prince Khurran from the Mughal manuscript Padshahnama, attributes two figures on the New York subway and a nonbinary deity that has the ability to see in all instructions.

Shahzia Sikander, “Sly Offering” (2001), vegetable coloration, dry pigment, watercolor and inkjet outline on tea-stained wasli paper. Selection of Judy and Robert Mann (© 2021 Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London)

The exhibition finishes with Sikander’s operatic video clip projection Parallax (2015), a 15-moment, three-channel installation comprised of hundreds of her lush drawings and watercolors, at first made for the 2013 Sharjah Bienniale. In the mesmerizing globe of Parallax, it’s tricky to convey to irrespective of whether the viewer is moving into into an idyllic fantasy or a dystopia tangerine and ruby petals slide throughout a shifting landscape of rock, forest, and concrete. Bird-like kinds plunge into an oily ocean. A skeletal determine dissolves into a swarm of black insects. These shifting animations evoke the landscape of the Persian Gulf, which Sikander experienced driving by way of the region, and mirror the ongoing cultural and historical movement of the Strait of Hormuz. As the link place involving the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz links numerous geographic spots and is critical for oil supply. Amid Parallax’s main images are the tresses of a female form, spinning and entangling, looming throughout an industrial backdrop, a comment on female resilience in the deal with of international capitalism.  

In a retrospective scarcely containable inside of its 3 rooms, Incredible Realities gathers with each other themes of woman multiplicity, queer desire, capitalist exploitation, and decolonial aesthetics. Turning to classic art procedures, Sikander forces the variety, be it manuscript painting, video clip set up, or drawing, to bend to her interpretation of these concerns. On each a visible and an ideological level she demonstrates that they are undeniably linked.

Shahzia Sikander, “Spaces in Between” (1995), vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, and graphite on tea-stained wasli paper. Personal Selection, Gottingen, Germany (© 2021 Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London)

Shahzia Sikander: Incredible Realities continues at the Museum of High-quality Arts, Houston (5601 Primary Avenue, Houston, Texas) by June 5. The exhibition was arranged by the RISD Museum and offered in collaboration with the Museum of High-quality Arts, Houston, and curated by Jan Howard.


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