Shahzia Sikander

b. 1969 in Lahore, Pakistan
Working in New York, NY, United States of America
Showing at Asia Society Museum
On view October 27, 2020, through February 7, 2021
Shahzia Sikander, The Scroll, 1989-1990

Shahzia Sikander, The Scroll, 1989-1990. Vegetable color, dry pigment, watercolor, and tea on wasli paper. H. 13 1/8 x W. 63 7/8 in. (33 x 162.2 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly, New York. Image © Shahzia Sikander,  Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly, New York

Location: Asia Society Museum
Shahzia Sikander, No Calm of Consummation, 2019

Shahzia Sikander, No Calm of Consummation, 2019. Ink and gouache on paper. H. 87 9/16 x W. 60 1/4 in. (222.4 x 153 cm). Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly, New York. Image © Shahzia Sikander,  Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly, New York

Location: Asia Society Museum

Shahzia Sikander’s pioneering practice pushes the boundaries of the Indo-Persian miniature painting tradition through experimentation with scale and diverse mediums including animation, video, large-scale murals, and interdisciplinary collaboration. The artist deftly explores the complex origins of contested cultural, religious, and political histories through imagery appropriated from popular culture, current events, and mythology. The artist received a BFA from the National College of Arts in Lahore in 1991 and an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2017. Sikander was a recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius Award” in 2006 and a U.S. State Department Medal of Art in 2012.


The Scroll and No Calm of Consummation are compelling bookends that chart Sikander’s evolution as an artist and her founding role in the establishment of the neo-miniature movement. The Scroll, Sikander’s thesis project at the National College of Arts in Lahore, is a visual bildungsroman that poetically encapsulates the female experience of coming of age in Pakistan in the 1980s under the military dictatorship’s Hudood Ordinances limiting women’s rights. The revolutionary nature of its visual and conceptual premise, likened to an epic poem, creates a compelling bridge between tradition and modernity, the personal and the political. Literature has remained a touchstone for Sikander, and No Calm of Consummation takes inspiration from a ghazal by the nineteenth-century poet Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib. 


زﻮﻨﮨ ﮟﯿﮩﻧ غرﺎﻓ ﮯﺳ لﺎﻤﺟ ﺶِ ﺋارآ 
ﮟﯿﻣ بﺎﻘﻧ ﻢﺋاد ہﻨﺋآ ﮯﮨ ﺮﻈﻧ ﺶِ ﯿﭘ


(Aaraish e Jamal se farigh naheen hunooz
Pesh e nazar hay aaina daim naqab mein)


The embellishment of the ravishing is never to be done
Inside the seclusion of the veil, the mirror lives constantly 


This passage refers to the unrelenting and ultimately unending path of the artist. Sikander’s layered transpositions in Urdu subtly illuminate the fraught transcultural relationship of language and translation to nationhood and power. The pairing of these works, spanning almost thirty years of artistic practice, refers to the power of the creative process and its ability to transcend boundaries both personal and cultural.