Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)
27 Nov 2007 to 17 Feb 2008
This major solo exhibition, the artist’s first in Australia, charted Shahzia Sikander’s career from Pakistan to the United States, where she has lived for the past fifteen years. Born in 1969 in Lahore, Pakistan, Sikander studied painting in the Mughal miniaturist tradition and relocated to New York in 1993 to undertake further studies. This exhibition was Sikander’s largest to date, encompassing works from the early 1990s through to 2007, including a vast wall painting which was commissioned and created on-site especially for the MCA.
Sikander’s art is characterised by its precision of line and delicacy of touch. From tightly structured miniature paintings to larger, more loosely formed watercolours in which pigments stain and bleed into one another, creating impressionistic forms, her works incorporate both figurative and abstract references. In these works Hindu, Muslim and Western imagery co-exist as historical tradition meets contemporary interpretation. Beauty, sensuality and a gently subversive humour underlies these works with their rounded female forms, mandalas, courtly interiors and dancing deities.
The exhibition was augmented by the inclusion of historical miniature paintings from South Asia, providing a context and introduction to the artist’s own practice. The artist’s interest in spatial relationships and how they affect the viewer were illustrated in the extraordinary site-specific wall painting commissioned by the MCA, Transformation as Narrative (2007), Sikander’s largest wall drawing to date. The artist, working with several assistants, used a number of drawings and photographs as inspiration for her work, and would visit Sydney’s Botanical Gardens at dusk to document the flying foxes, incorporating photographs of their ghostly silhouettes into her painting. The painting took almost three weeks to create, and in its final form abstract lines and colourful image fragments swirled together in an agitated mass, cascading downwards from the Level 2 mezzanine across the gallery wall.