Shahzia Sikander was born in 1969 in Lahore, Pakistan. Educated as an undergraduate at the National College of Arts in Lahore, she received her MFA in 1995 from the Rhode Island School of Design.
Sikander specializes in Indian and Persian manuscript painting, a traditional style that is both highly stylized and disciplined. While becoming an expert in this technique-driven, often impersonal art form, she imbued it with a personal context and history, blending the Eastern focus on precision and methodology with a Western emphasis on creative, subjective expression. In doing so, Sikander transported manuscript painting into the realm of contemporary art.
Raised as a Muslim, Sikander is also interested in exploring both sides of the Hindu and Muslim “border,” often combining imagery from both—such as the Muslim veil and the Hindu multi-armed goddess—in a single painting. Sikander has written: “Such juxtaposing and mixing of Hindu and Muslim iconography is a parallel to the entanglement of histories of India and Pakistan.” Expanding the manuscript painting to the wall, Sikander also creates murals and installations, using tissue-paper-like materials that allow for a more free-flowing style. In what she labeled performances, Sikander experimented with wearing a veil in public, something she never did before moving to the United States.
Utilizing performance and various media and formats to investigate issues of border crossing, she seeks to subvert stereotypes of the East and, in particular, the Eastern Pakistani woman. Sikander has received many awards and honors for her work, including the honorary artist award from the Pakistan Ministry of Culture and National Council of the Arts. Sikander resides in New York.
“One thing I’ve learned is respect for tradition and respect for patience. Time is the key.”