press release

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum presented Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis, an exhibition of recent animations, drawings, and a site-specific installation by the Pakistan-born artist from September 19 through January 2, 2005. Nemesis is a traveling exhibition in two parts, organized by Aldrich associate curator Jessica Hough in collaboration with curator Ian Berry of The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. This exhibition was made possible in part by the Islamic World Arts Initiative, a program of Arts International generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. The Aldrich exhibition unveiled new works completed during the summer of 2004. An opening reception was held at the Museum on September 19, 2004,. Indian dancer and Yoga practitioner, Sharmila Desai, performed at the opening reception for the exhibition. Desai and Sikander have collaborated in various creative capacities over the past few years.

Born in the multicultural city of Lahore, Pakistan, Sikander grew up equally conversant with international pop culture and her country’s heritage of miniature painting, which originated as a court tradition for illustrating royal manuscripts and reached its height during the Mughal Empire (1526-1857), when Muslim rulers reigned over predominantly Hindu India. By Sikander’s day, cliché miniature images were “abundant as gift items everywhere, saturating the tourist market,” she recalls. “My initial feeling …was that it was kitsch, but I saw the potential of subversion.” Today, Sikander freely mingles Hindu and Muslim painting techniques with contemporary Western elements, from American painting and pop culture to images of war, supermodels, and fairy tales. Sikander’s innovative blend of ancient and contemporary themes were evident in the new works on view at The Aldrich.

Co-curator Jessica Hough describes the uniqueness of Sikander’s style: “While Sikander is totally engaged with the tradition of miniature painting, her work is only in part about looking back. She has developed numerous ways to play off this source material, producing work which is unmistakably contemporary.”

Animation A highlight of the exhibition was the debut of an animation that focused on landscape, an essential aspect of miniature painting that is traditionally secondary to the action or figures in the composition. In this video, which was projected in large-scale, the landscape is not the backdrop for the action, but rather provides the action. Sikander has created imagery inspired both by nature and the stylized landscape of the miniature. The trees, hills, root systems, rivers, and mountain ranges come to life and command the content of the drama. The animation was accompanied by a soundtrack that echoes and enhances the drama unfolding visually.

Drawings The exhibition also included a suite of graphite drawings, fifty in total, one to be titled 51 Ways of Looking. These highly detailed line drawings, similar to sketches for miniature paintings, continued the tradition in a more measured format. The drawings provided a monochrome contrast to the opulent color of the animation and complex layering of the installation work.

Installation Sikander created a site-specific wall installation on the Museum’s new 16-square-foot “art wall” in the atrium. The installation was a spontaneous reaction to the character of the space and content of her new suite of drawings and wasl created on-site over a period of ten days. Sikander has executed many wall drawings over the past six years sometimes using only paint an dother times utilizing squares of painted yellow tissue paper that are pinned to the wall.

About the Artist Sikander has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions at museums and galleries around the U.S., including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris, the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., Art Pace in San Antonio, the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Kansas City, San Diego Art Museum, and Brent Sikkema Gallery in New York. Her works are in the permanent collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Shahzia, trained as a miniaturist at National College of Arts, Lahore, has paved a way for contemporizing miniatures through skillful use of traditional materials and techniques. Sikander’s work implies that sentimental revivalism need not be the raison d’etre of the miniature, to the contrary, it can be a means of innovating, reinterpreting and transforming the past. -Salima Hashmi, Libas International, 1992 from “Shahzia’s Miniatures”

Exhibition support is provided by: Islamic World Arts Initiative, a program of Arts International generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art.

Catalogue A catalogue is currently in production at The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College. The 96-page, full-color hard-cover book will be available in summer 2004. The catalogue will include an interview with the artist by Tang curator Ian Berry, an essay focusing on Sikander’s digital works by Aldrich curator Jessica Hough, and a short fiction work by Mohsin Hamid (author of the novel Moth Smoke, Picador U.S.A., 2000).

The Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery is located at Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY. Call 518.580.8080


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Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis