Artist Profile: Shazia Sikander IAIR 01.1
The end of March marks a decade since Shahzia Sikander exhibited Intimacy, an installation of drawing and digital video projection that culminated her IAIR 01.1 residency. Sikander has made industrious use of those ten years, earning the National Medal of Honor from her native Pakistan in 2005, a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2006, and one of the three inaugural Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Creative Arts Fellowships in 2009. Since 2001, she has shown work in dozens of group and solo exhibitions all over the world. Her works are now housed in some of the most prominent collections in America, including the Hirschhorn Museum, MOCA Los Angeles, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Walker Art Center and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
Once known only for her iconic Indo-Persian-inspired miniature paintings, Sikander has expanded her practice to include drawing, large-scale installations and digital video projections, a medium with which she first experimented at Artpace. With these new and varied media, she continues her longstanding aesthetic and intellectual investment in questioning the certainty of allegedly fixed cultural and religious identities. Sikander’s investigations hybridize the visual languages of an array of sources ranging from traditional manuscript illumination of her native Pakistan to Western modernist abstraction. By producing images that defy expected categories, Sikander interrogates the perceived boundaries between the styles typically associated with these cultures. A 2009 work-on-paper called I am also not my own enemy exemplifies this approach. In it, contemporary architecture is rendered in the simple, flat color fields of traditional Pakastani miniature painting. The title of the work, which is superimposed in delicate script upon of the elaborately bordered image, is derived from a fragment of an Urdu ghazal but reads like a insurgent manifesto one might find spraypainted in the streets of today’s Cairo or Tripoli.
Sikander’s project of unhinging cultural identities by disrupting longstanding aesthetic traditions is not always in favor of multiculturalism. Her works, and especially the post-Artpace digital video projections like Dissonance to Detour, avoid endorsing the kinds of cross-cultural and transnational ideals that have become central to the total globalization of contemporary society. Instead, they present the problem of multiculturalism and its subjects as the disjointed and confusing entities that they so often are in real life. As seen in her videos and recent drawings, the results are often eerie and unsettling. In this way, Sikander’s art serves as both a warning and a preview of a future in which we can no longer be content with perceiving the foreign Other as our opposite and natural enemy. More and more, we must be accountable to the fact that the entire globe participates in our lives and our livelihood, from the food we eat to the art we consume.