Shahzia Sikander is a Pakistani American artist who works in drawing, painting, installation, murals, animation, and video work to explore gender roles and cultural identity during colonial and post-colonial histories. Her practice began by creating traditional-style Indi-Persian miniature paintings, based on Persian, Rajput, and Mughal techniques. These Central and South-Asian miniature paintings and traditions formed the basis for her own approach to this traditional art form. She was responsible for transporting miniature painting into the realm of contemporary art.
Sikander was raised as a Muslin but was always interested in exploring both sides of the Hindu and Muslim divide, often combining in one painting female imagery from both religions, such as the Muslim veil and images of various Hindu goddesses.
Sikander received her B.F.A. in 1991 from the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. Her thesis work was “The Scroll,” a semi-autobiographical manuscript that referenced Safavid painting traditions. This work was a turning point in contemporary miniature painting and started the net-miniature movement. She was appointed a lecturer in miniature painting at the college. She received her M.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1995 where she experimented with new approaches to representation. From 1995-1997 she participated in the Glassell School of Art’s CORE Program at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
Sikander trained under a traditional master and invented alternative approaches to miniature painting, combining different religious and cultural references in her work. Sikander examines colonial history, and she studies politics and current events to address Eastern narratives in Western art history. Ideas of language, trade, empire, and migration are viewed by her through a feminist perspective.
Expanding miniature painting, Sikander also makes murals and installations, by painting on the wall, covering it up with tissue paper, and adding more drawings on the front. This technique of layering gives her work a more free-flowing style.
For her digital animations and video work, she again uses techniques of layering and ink drawing. Her 2010 “The Last Post” is an animated video work which tells of the colonial history of the British opium trade with China and trade relations between China and India. It gives a non-linear narrative of the end of the English hegemony over China through the East India Company. Her 2013 “Parallax” is an animation inspired by her travels through the United Arab Emirates. This work examines contested histories of colonialism and tensions over the control of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
Sikander was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2006, the State Department Medal of Art in 2012, and the Asia Society Award for Significant Contribution to Contemporary Art in 2015, among others. Her work was included in the 1997 Whitney Biennial, the 2005 Venice Biennale, and the Karachi Biennale in 2017. In the same year her work was shown in the 7th Biennial Hamad bin Khalifa Symposium on Islamic Art in Richmond, Virginia. Sikander – in collaboration with author Amy Novesky – has written a memoir for young people, “Roots and Wings: How Shazhia Sikander Became an Artist.”
Her work is the subject of a traveling exhibition “Shahzia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities.” It opened at New York’s The Morgan Library in June 2021 and will travel to RISD Museum and to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.
Sikander has participated in dozens of group and solo exhibitions internationally. Public installations have included “Disruptions as Rapture,” in Toronto and “Mary-Am” in Houston, Texas.