Shahzia Sikander: A Master of Indo-Persian Miniatures

Medha Kapur of Saffronart shares a note on Shahzia Sikander, a renowned Pakistani artist. 

Shahzia Sikander

Shahzia Sikander
Image courtesy:

Mumbai: Shahzia Sikander was born in Pakistan in 1969, and currently lives in New York. She left Pakistan in 1993, went on to graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, and lived briefly in Houston before moving to New York. Sikander is known for the ways in which she adapts Indo-Persian miniature paintings in her work. Besides her small-format paintings, she has also executed a number of large wall murals, video works, animations, and large-scale installations. Sikander’s works combine traditional motifs and techniques with her own personal visions, and her views on politics and sexuality. The artist has also been interested in exploring both sides of the Hindu and Muslim ‘border,’ reflected in  the way she stylistically mixes Mughal and Rajput painting traditions in her work.

Sikander’s work first made a splash when it was shown in 1997 at the Whitney Biennial in New York. Impressed by her work at the Biennial, Deitch Art Projects gave Sikander her first solo show in the city. She has since held solo exhibitions throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Australia and Hong Kong.

Shahzia Sikander Apparatus of Power 1995, in the 1997 Whitney Biennial

Shahzia Sikander Apparatus of Power 1995, in the 1997 Whitney Biennial
Image courtesy:

Saffronart’s first auction of the modern and contemporary Art of Pakistan, includes a painting by Shahzia Sikander titled Let It Ride #3, which was exhibited at her 1997 solo show at Deitch Art Projects in New York. This lot reflects the artist’s unique adaptation of traditional miniature painting techniques in her work.

Shahzia Sikander, Let It Ride #3

Shahzia Sikander, Let It Ride #3

According to the Deitch Art Projects press release for the exhibition, “Sikander often tells the story about how she was the first student in ten years to ask to concentrate on miniature painting when she enrolled at Lahore’s National College of Arts in 1987. Sikander’s reinvention of miniature painting inspired numerous others to follow and now the department has about thirty students. The way that Sikander uses the miniature tradition as a structure for visual diversity reflects the multicultural traditions of Pakistan. The culture incorporates both Muslim and Hindu elements and the strong influence of Persia. There is also the legacy of the British Colonial period. Sikander’s work, like contemporary Pakistani society, has elements that are Muslim, Hindu, Persian, Indian and European. Sikander points out how she incorporates such things as Celtic imagery in her work. A careful unraveling of her work reveals dialogues with many unexpected visual sources.”

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[…] Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969) at age 36 was awarded the MacArthur Foundation’s fellowship (also generally referred to as the genius award) which provides unrestricted use of US$500,000 to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction. Shahzia was the first to breakaway from the miniature tradition, and has been instrumental in the rediscovery, re-infusion, and re-contextualisation of Indo-Persian miniature painting, which has helped establish an art form that is now known and recognised as contemporary miniature, or neo-miniature. She has now entered the mainstream of contemporary art internationally and is a recognised superstar… […]

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