Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Shahzia Sikander

Shahzia Sikander, originally uploaded by mitue.

Shahzia Sikander (and by extension her work) is complexly situated. She is highly successful by Western art establishment standards, she is Muslim by background, Pakistani-born in this season of shock and awe gone grotesque; she is unveiled, jean clad, ultra hip; she is theoretically poised to deconstruct post colonial clichés, yet endemically subject to them (reviews of her work in publications as august as the New York Times casually mix up Shiva and Buddha in a kind of “they all look the same to me” faux pas).

Sikander studied classical painting in Pakistan, came West and hit the art world running straight out of Rhode Island School of Design in the mid ‘90s. Her work became a popular, stunning analogue for slippery categories at the heart of transnational practice, theory and experience--all of which query essentialist notions of race/nation as some intrinsic phenomenological condition.

In this vein, Sikander’s works of the last decade mix an oft ironic sampling of Western classicism with delicate 17th-century Mughal precision, and folksy and sensual Rajput variations. She is wont to commingle Eastern religion with Homeric clichés, broad abstract shapes found in the backgrounds and borders of miniatures with infinitely delicate natural description. She’s fond of treating a wall as a framed object, then letting her imagery dribble around a random corner so as to remind us of the fluid boundaries between pictorial and real space. The work can toss in the short-hand, chunky style of cartoon animation (a style also found in the more abstract art of the ancient Jain), and in fact, Sikander turns paintings into magical animated shorts.

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