Shahzia Sikander's Radical Take on Traditional Arts


HOUSTON — Shahzia Sikander’s exhibition Abnormal Realities, lately on view on the Museum of Advantageous Arts, Houston, is a posh organism. Just like Sikander’s artistic endeavors themselves, every room bursts with an array of subject matters in quite a lot of mediums. The exhibition covers the primary 15 years of the artist’s occupation. Starting from conventional manuscript artwork to tracing paper drawings to video projection, the items on show are without delay intricate and expansive, historic but totally fresh.

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1969, Sikander received international consideration within the Nineteen Nineties as she pioneered new approaches to miniature portray, recontextualizing conventional representations of race, gender, and nationwide id. The primary room of Abnormal Realities showcases a sequence of detailed watercolors within the taste of Islamic and South Asian manuscript artwork from the sixteenth via nineteenth centuries. Full of lifestyles, those works hassle the class of “miniature” that this creative observe was once assigned through Ecu tradesmen within the 1700s, resisting their small shape. 

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

A few of Sikander’s miniatures expose a connection to Houston. A former Core Fellow on the MFAH’s Glassell Faculty, she has a different dating to the town. “Eye-I-ing The ones Armorial Bearings” (1989–97) facilities a portrait of mythical native artist Rick Lowe, who co-founded the group Mission Row Properties in Houston’s essentially African American 3rd Ward. A sequence of connected photographs — shields, animals, and a small portray of the row properties themselves — bureaucracy a type of holy iconography round Lowe aimed toward countering racist depictions of Blackness in classical Ecu artwork. Sikander maintains that she is motivated through “an pressing reexamination of colonial and imperial tales of race and illustration.” This re-envisioning is enacted right here by means of circles, supposed to characterize other “lenses” to peer the sector.

Consistent with an essay that student Gayatri Gopinath wrote for Sikander’s exhibition catalogue, the artist’s use of a standard medium refuses neat classes of gender and nationhood, flipping assumptions of the history because the web page of cultural authenticity. Gopinath asserts that Sikander’s flip to standard bureaucracy is “radically anti-nostalgic in that she each makes use of and deconstructs the idiom of Indo-Persian miniature portray with the intention to consider a distinct provide and long term.”

Shahzia Sikander, “Separate Operating Issues I” (1993-95), vegetable colour, 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 is going directly to argue that Sikander’s ordinary symbol of a floating, headless girl with roots for toes exemplifies a classy of queer diaspora that elides simple definitions of house and position. Within the e-book Islamic Artwork: Previous, Provide, Long term (2019), Sikander described this root-baring, floating feminine determine as “self-nourishing,” a type of selection deity that “refuses to belong, to be mounted, to be grounded, to be stereotyped.” This deity may also be far and wide without delay, and eludes any outlined id.  

Subject matters of queer want proceed in Sikander’s portray “Cholee Kay Peechay Kiya? Chunree Kay Neechay Kiya?” (What Is underneath the Shirt? What Is underneath the Get dressed?) (1997), which footage a multi-limbed, gender-fluid determine. The piece nods to a scene of queer longing within the 1993 Bollywood movie Khalnayak through which two girls seductively dance in combination. This paintings, like many others of Sikander’s, each conceals and divulges queer longing in simple sight. This intricately rendered play with visibility powerfully questions what has traditionally been thought to be legible want.

The second one room of Abnormal Realities makes a speciality of the paintings Sikander made after she moved to New York in 1997. She started to experiment with new mediums and methods, comparable to layered tracing paper drawings and clay-coated paper drawings. Within the wake of 9/11, she additional navigated the questions international economics, magnificence, race, gender, and capitalism. Those works seek advice from fashionable iconography each from Pakistan and the West: “Thoughts Video games” (2000), a retelling of Jangir Receives Prince Khurran from the Mughal manuscript Padshahnama, options two figures at the New York subway and a nonbinary deity that has the ability to peer in all instructions.

Shahzia Sikander, “Sly Providing” (2001), vegetable colour, dry pigment, watercolor and inkjet define on tea-stained wasli paper. Choice 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 video projection Parallax (2015), a 15-minute, three-channel set up made out of masses of her lush drawings and watercolors, firstly created for the 2013 Sharjah Bienniale. Within the spell binding international of Parallax, it’s onerous to inform whether or not the viewer is getting into into an idyllic myth or a dystopia; tangerine and ruby petals fall throughout a transferring panorama of rock, wooded area, and urban. Hen-like bureaucracy plunge into an oily ocean. A skeletal determine dissolves right into a swarm of black bugs. Those transferring animations evoke the panorama of the Persian Gulf, which Sikander skilled riding during the area, and replicate the continual cultural and historic motion of the Strait of Hormuz. As the relationship level between the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz hyperlinks a number of geographic spaces and is necessary for oil provide. Amongst Parallax’s core photographs are the tresses of a feminine shape, spinning and entangling, looming throughout an commercial backdrop, a touch upon feminine resilience within the face of worldwide capitalism.  

In a retrospective slightly containable inside of its 3 rooms, Abnormal Realities gathers in combination subject matters of feminine multiplicity, queer want, capitalist exploitation, and decolonial aesthetics. Turning to standard artwork practices, Sikander forces the shape, be it manuscript portray, video set up, or drawing, to bend to her interpretation of those problems. On each a visible and an ideological degree she demonstrates that they're undeniably attached.

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

Shahzia Sikander: Abnormal Realities continues on the Museum of Advantageous Arts, Houston (5601 Major Boulevard, Houston, Texas) via June 5. The exhibition was once arranged through the RISD Museum and offered in collaboration with the Museum of Advantageous Arts, Houston, and curated through Jan Howard.