Shahzia Sikander, who currently resides in New York City, was born in 1969 in Lahore. She is an artist who works in drawing, painting, animation, large-scale installation, performance and video, on an international stage. She
Shahzia Sikander, who currently resides in New York City, was born in 1969 in Lahore. She is an artist who works in drawing, painting, animation, large-scale installation, performance and video, on an international stage. She studied at The National College of Arts Lahore, where she was taught the traditional discipline of Indo-Persian miniature painting. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1991. Sikander moved to the United States and attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), earning a Master of Fine Arts in 1995.
Shazia Sikander has held solo exhibitions throughout the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Australia and Hong Kong. She has had solo exhibitions at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1999/2000) and at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1998). Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at the Whitney Museum (1999/2000 and 1999), at the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane, Australia (1999), and at the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany (1999).
Initially, she explored the tension between illustration and fine art when she first encountered miniature painting in her late teens. Championing the formal aspects of the Indo-Persian miniature-painting genre has often been at the core of her practice.
As an undergraduate student in Lahore, Shahzia Sikander studied the techniques of Persian and Mughal miniature painting, often integrating traditional forms of Mughal (Islamic) and Rajput (Hindu) styles and culture. The traditional form of miniature painting requires equal measures of discipline, gesture and expression in order to execute a careful layering of colour and detail. Compositionally, miniature paintings exhibit an extensive display of colourful imagery including, human forms, animals, patterns, shapes, dots and connecting lines. Miniature paintings often engage in contextual complexities such as, religious narrative, scenes of battles and court life.
Shazia Sikander has integrated the techniques and forms of traditional miniature painting, relying on the layering of images and metaphor to drive her work. Her forms and figures exhibit a quality of continual morphing as transparent imagery is layered, providing a complexity with endless shifts in perception. Her complex, compositions dismantle hierarchical assumptions and subverts the very notion of a singular, fixed identity of figures and forms. The increasing approach of continual morphing explains her relationship to an ever-changing world where opposing societies coalscently interact.
The Scroll, 1992, is a semi-autobiographical manuscript painting in which Shazia has included formal elements of manuscript painting and simultaneous views of multiple events. The Scroll portrays the intricacies of domestic Pakistani life including rituals that explore cultural and geographic traditions. Many hues, patterns and incidents appear in The Scroll, identifying Shazia’s attention to small detail, muted colour palette and understanding of architectural elements juxtaposed with the intimacies of domestic culture. The use of perspective is increasingly noticeable, exhibiting a linear movement of composition. Common concerns of economics, imperialism, colonialism, sexualism and identity are also apparent in her early paintings.
Shazia's attention to detail and formalism assist in the contextualization of her miniature paintings, stemming from an interest in labour, process and memory. Earlier paintings also include elements of Gopi, or the cowherd female devotees and lovers of the deity Krishna in Hindu mythology, while figures of men are depicted as turbaned warriors. The Gopi is portrayed in her early miniature paintings to locate visual and symbolic forms within miniature painting that have the potential to generate multiple meanings. Shahzia Sikander’s most significant use of Gopi can be seen in a series of drawings and digital animation from 2003, titled Spinn. In the animation the characters multiply and their hair separates from their bodies, creating an abstracted form of hair silhouettes. She explores the relationship between the present and the past, including the richness of multicultural identities. Integrated with both personal and social histories, her work invites multiple meanings, operating in a state of constant flux and transition.
Drawing is a fundamental element of Shazia's process, a basic tool for exploration. She construct most of her work, including patterns of thinking, via drawing. Ideas housed on paper are often put into motion in the video animations, creating a form of disruption as a means to engage. She also stayed true to layering, a concept running throughout her practice. For the making of video animations, she went back to the fundamental use of ink drawings, crafting form out of colour and gouache, scanning and threading them via movement. The breakdown of form also gives a stationary drawing the illusion of transformation, which as a topic has given her a lot of space to experiment and imagine throughout her work.
Similarly to her miniature paintings, Shazia relies on the process of layering to create digital animation. Formal elements of technique, layering and movement of the digital animations help to unhinge the absolute of contrasts such as Western/non-Western, past/present, miniature/scale. Shazia explains her appreciation for the process of layering in digital animation, allowing the narrative to remain suspended and open for reinterpretation. According to Shazia the purpose is to point out, and not necessarily define. She finds this attitude a useful way to navigate the complex and often deeply rooted cultural and socio-political stances that envelop us twenty-four hours and day, seven days a week.
She thinks context, location matters a lot. Because location obviously in her situation, it's the space in which the work is going to be exhibited. And since some of the work she does is created onsite, it requires a different type of space, versus the smaller drawings or more subject-oriented work, so that the context becomes important.
As a female Muslim artist, Shahzia Sikander often had to endure stereotyping among her community. The veil (a scarf often worn by Muslim women) covers the hair and neck and is symbolic of both religion and womanhood. Shazia's miniature paintings often refer to the veil, exploring her own religious history and cultural identity. In a performance piece, she wore an elaborate lace veil for several weeks while documenting the reaction of her peers. Shazia explains that the veil gave her an ultimate sense of security, stating that, It was wonderful to not have people see my facial or body language, and at the same time be in control and know that they did not know I was acting, and checking their reaction.
Imagines and histories of the traditional Muslim veil occur throughout Shazia's compositions. Her larger works are reminiscent of a centuries-old Indian practice in which women regularly paint figures all over the walls and floors of their houses, using whole body gestural movements. Shazia uses large drawings as the basis for her large-scale installations, often requiring months to complete. Nemesis, a site-specific installation at the Tang Museum, features a jewel-like painting as small as six by eight inches and two animations.