- Rachel Kent, Chief Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, cited in C. Brandon, Shahzia Sikander: Apparatus of Power, Hong Kong, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, 2016, p. 29
Shahzia Sikander’s exploration of Indo-Persian miniatures informs her expansive oeuvre as she challenges the traditional subject matter and technique of miniature drawings. She engages in themes relating to the exploration of cultural and political boundaries through different media such as video, murals and animation. Sikander states, “I’m interested in taking a form, breaking it apart, and then rebuilding it. It is about transformation for me — whether it is the transformation of an image or a mark or a symbol or if it’s a transformation of a genre or transformation of a medium – but it is a very core notion that I think stabilizes my practice.”(S. Sikander, ART21, ‘Shahzia Sikander: The Last Post’, http://magazine.art21.org/2013/01/25/exclusive-shahzia-sikander-the-last-post/#.W4vnWS2ZN24).
Born and raised in Lahore, Sikander’s success in rejuvenating traditional miniature painting has contributed greatly to the revival of Lahore’s National College of Arts Miniature Painting department. After completing her MFA at Rhode Island School of Design, Sikander gained international recognition from solo exhibitions and her participation in group shows in prestigious institutions, such as MOMA New York , the Guggenheim Bilbao, as well as her involvement in the 1997 Whitney Biennial and the 54th Venice Biennale. Additionally, Sikander was the first Pakistani-born artist to be inducted in the National Academy of Design, New York, as a ‘National Academician’.
Sikander gained inspiration from her extensive travels, each trip contributing to the progression of her technique and the inclusion of certain motifs. Through the artist’s travels, she embarked on many road trips driving through Europe, Mexico and the United Arab Emirates. Sikander expresses, ‘driving for me was like navigating the terrain of drawing’ (C. Brandon, Shahzia Sikander: Apparatus of Power, Hong Kong, Asia Society Hong Kong Center, p. 27) Elusive Realities seems to be the amalgamation of the varied scenes Sikander was exposed to throughout her travels, capturing the different charms of each city. The present work is exemplary of the way Sikander uses the canvas as a platform to share her experiences with the world through unexpected juxtapositions.
In the present work, Elusive Realities 2, Sikander masterfully employs layers, detailed design and bold colours to create a narrative surrounding the central female figure and convey a sense of orderly disorder. With seemingly random objects carefully placed around the canvas, each corner of the painting contains symbols with arguably unrelated meanings, while still forming a coherent composition. A magnified view of what could have been a miniature painting results in a new appreciation for the varied symbolism, range of design and colour that she has rendered on such a large scale. This striking yet elusive image also allows for a variety of interpretations. The diverse motifs of flip flops, cowboy boots, geometric shapes, calligraphy, plants, horses legs and decorative spirals places the traditional iconography of miniature paintings within a contemporary context.
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