Shahzia Sikander’s Radical Take on Traditional Arts


HOUSTON — Shahzia Sikander’s exhibition Incredible Realities, presently on perspective at the Museum of Wonderful Arts, Houston, is a elaborate organism. Much like Sikander’s artworks on their own, each and every room bursts with an array of themes in different mediums. The exhibition covers the initial 15 decades of the artist’s career. Ranging from common manuscript paintings to tracing paper drawings to movie projection, the items on screen are at when intricate and expansive, historic however totally up to date.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1969, Sikander received world interest in the 1990s as she pioneered new techniques to miniature portray, recontextualizing classic representations of race, gender, and nationwide identification. The 1st space of Remarkable Realities showcases a collection of specific watercolors in the fashion of Islamic and South Asian manuscript paintings from the 16th as a result of 19th centuries. Packed with daily life, these functions difficulties the group of “miniature” that this inventive exercise was assigned by European tradesmen in the 1700s, resisting their compact form. 

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

Some of Sikander’s miniatures expose a relationship to Houston. A former Core Fellow at the MFAH’s Glassell College, she has a specific marriage to the town. “Eye-I-ing People Armorial Bearings” (1989–97) facilities a portrait of famous regional artist Rick Lowe, who co-launched the business Undertaking Row Homes in Houston’s generally African American 3rd Ward. A series of connected images — shields, animals, and a compact portray of the row houses themselves — varieties a sort of holy iconography all over 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 representation.” This re-envisioning is enacted below by the use of circles, intended to symbolize diverse “lenses” to see the world.

In accordance to an essay that scholar Gayatri Gopinath wrote for Sikander’s exhibition catalogue, the artist’s use of a classic medium refuses neat classes of gender and nationhood, flipping assumptions of the historic past as the website of cultural authenticity. Gopinath asserts that Sikander’s transform to traditional sorts is “radically anti-nostalgic in that she the two utilizes and deconstructs the idiom of Indo-Persian miniature painting in get to picture a various current and long run.”

Shahzia Sikander, “Separate Operating Factors I” (1993-95), vegetable shade, dry pigment, watercolor, gold paint on tea-stained wasli paper. Personal assortment (© 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 feet exemplifies an aesthetic of queer diaspora that elides simple definitions of home and place. In the e book Islamic Artwork: Past, Current, Foreseeable future (2019), Sikander described this root-baring, floating feminine determine as “self-nourishing,” a sort of alternative deity that “refuses to belong, to be preset, to be grounded, to be stereotyped.” This deity can be just about everywhere at the moment, and eludes any defined identity.  

Themes of queer wish continue in Sikander’s portray “Cholee Kay Peechay Kiya? Chunree Kay Neechay Kiya?” (What Is less than the Blouse? What Is under the Gown?) (1997), which pictures a multi-limbed, gender-fluid figure. As Gopinath argues, the piece nods to a scene of queer longing in the 1993 Bollywood film Khalnayak in which two gals seductively dance alongside one another. This perform, like a lot of other people of Sikander’s, the two conceals and reveals queer longing in basic sight. This intricately rendered play with visibility powerfully thoughts what has traditionally been deemed legible wish.

The next home of Extraordinary Realities focuses on the function Sikander manufactured just after she moved to New York in 1997. She started to experiment with new mediums and tactics, these types of as layered tracing paper drawings and clay-coated paper drawings. In the wake of 9/11, she even further navigated the inquiries international economics, course, race, gender, and capitalism. These functions refer to common iconography both equally from Pakistan and the West: “Mind Games” (2000), a retelling of Jangir Receives Prince Khurran from the Mughal manuscript Padshahnama, functions two figures on the New York subway and a nonbinary deity that has the power to see in all instructions.

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

The exhibition ends with Sikander’s operatic movie projection Parallax (2015), a 15-minute, 3-channel set up comprised of hundreds of her lush drawings and watercolors, at first established for the 2013 Sharjah Bienniale. In the mesmerizing environment of Parallax, it’s tough to explain to no matter whether the viewer is getting into into an idyllic fantasy or a dystopia tangerine and ruby petals tumble throughout a shifting landscape of rock, forest, and concrete. Chook-like varieties plunge into an oily ocean. A skeletal figure dissolves into a swarm of black bugs. These shifting animations evoke the landscape of the Persian Gulf, which Sikander skilled driving by means of the region, and mirror the constant cultural and historic motion of the Strait of Hormuz. As the relationship position between the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz one-way links various geographic areas and is crucial for oil provide. Amid Parallax’s core illustrations or photos are the tresses of a feminine variety, spinning and entangling, looming throughout an industrial backdrop, a remark on woman resilience in the facial area of worldwide capitalism.  

In a retrospective scarcely containable inside of its 3 rooms, Incredible Realities gathers with each other themes of woman multiplicity, queer need, capitalist exploitation, and decolonial aesthetics. Turning to common art techniques, Sikander forces the type, be it manuscript painting, movie set up, or drawing, to bend to her interpretation of these concerns. On both of those a visible and an ideological degree she demonstrates that they are undeniably connected.

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

Shahzia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities proceeds at the Museum of High-quality Arts, Houston (5601 Main Road, Houston, Texas) by June 5. The exhibition was structured by the RISD Museum and offered in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and curated by Jan Howard.


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