Shahzia Sikander received her BFA in 1991 from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan and her MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1995. Pakistani-born and internationally recognized, Sikander's pioneering practice takes Indo-Persian miniature painting as a point of departure. While a student at the National College of Arts in Lahore, her innovative work challenged the medium’s technical and aesthetic framework, and helped launch a major resurgence in the Miniature Painting department. After receiving her BFA in 1991, trained under master-miniaturist Bashir Ahmad, Sikander went on to become the first woman to teach in the Miniature Painting department at NCA, inspiring many others to reexamine the miniature tradition in novel ways. In the 1990s, Sikander continued to be a technical pioneer, engaging with miniature painting in new ways, experimenting with scale and various forms of new media, including large-scale floor and wall drawings, installations, multimedia works, and collaborations with other artists. Sikander’s process-based work has continued to bring international recognition to this time-honored medium within contemporary art practice, examining the forces at stake in contested cultural and political histories and the underrepresentation of women in history. A recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (2006) and the U.S. State Department Medal of Arts (2012), Sikander has been the subject of many major international exhibitions, recently including MAXXI | Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome (2016-17); Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong (2016); and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2015).
The Perennial Gaze
Traditional Islamic miniatures and illuminated manuscripts now reside mostly in the storage collections of Western museums, as acquired, disassembled and commodified objects during the colonial period. It’s with this awareness of the fraught politics of colonialism and the rubric of politicized Muslim histories that Sikander works with a variety of interdisciplinary languages to challenge entrenched patriarchal representations through reimagining contested historical symbols.
Examining poetry, migration patterns, cultural quarantine, and the flux of human identity, the emergent visual motifs of positive female agency is a direct result to counter narrow definitions of the other, especially expunged female narratives which continue to be silenced from dominant histories. Sikander uses drawing as a navigational tool to collaborate and expand her ideas into other mediums. For this project, Sikander chose to work in mosaic for its robust presence throughout history to house her investigative visual iconography. Using the technique and process of building the image through broken glass pieces, in collaboration with a professional mosaic artisan, Sikander dismantles the preciousness of the historical miniature painting—the rarefied object most often found in Western museum storage—into an autonomous, liberated form.
Sikander’s installation is on view at the Community College of Philadelphia through October 2019.