The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Skip to main content

Important Update

September 19, 2004 to January 2, 2005 |

Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis

Shahzia Sikander: Nemesis is an exhibition of recent animations, drawings, and a site-specific installation by the Pakistan-born artist. The exhibition includes 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, continue the tradition in a more measured format. The drawings will provide a monochrome contrast to the opulent color of the animation and complex layering of the installation work. The exhibition will be the debut of an animation that the artist is producing. The animation will focus on landscape, an essential aspect of miniature painting that is traditionally secondary to the action or figures in the composition. In this video, which will be 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 will be accompanied by a soundtrack that echoes and enhances the drama unfolding visually.

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, cliche 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.

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."

Shahzia Sikander: 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 has been 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 will unveil new works completed during the summer of 2004. Image courtesy of the artist.