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Shahzia Sikander is a well known contemporary artist who was born the year 1969 in a town in Pakistan known as Lahore. Shahzia got her undergraduate in Lahore at the National College of arts and afterwards she managed to get her MFA in 1995 from the Rhode Island school of design. She has specialized in the creation of Indian and Persian miniature paintings. This is one tradition that is particularly stylized and disciplined in so many aspects. Most of her art work explicitly brings out the different culture and tensions between the Hindu, Muslim and the Christianity as well as her personal history, politics and not to forget her sexuality. Her stylish art work has given her a number of opportunities in show casing her breath taking work of art. She has had the privilege of having her personal exhibitions at the "Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden" Sculpture Garden and Hirshhorn Museum (1999/2000), the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1998) among others. Not only has her work been to solo exhibitions but she has had group exhibitions as well in places like, at the Third Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane Australia (1999), the Whitney Museum (1999/2000 and 1999), and at the Ludwig Museum, Cologne, Germany (1999) (Wooters 123).
In her solo exhibition, “Authority as Approximation”, which was held in China at the Para/ site Art space in Hong Kong, there was a show display of her past work ‘Spin’ (2003), which was presented at the Venice Biennial Arsenale exhibition, and puts an emphasis on her latest work. The video essay on ‘Bending the Barrels’ (2008) this was debuted in the city of New York, in the early dates of the year 2009.
In the video essay, ‘Bending the Barrels’ its subject is a Pakistani military brass band performing in formation. Many have chosen to analyze this as a political device. This piece of art is mind blowing. It manages to blend in the interaction between a superimposed text and the accompanying sound track. Some cultural critics have come to the conclusion that her choice of the Pakistan army bands as the subject of her exquisite art to be a trigger to the resonances from the core of the tradition of the Indo-Islamic miniature painting.
However, in her video essay it may be hard to not notice the uncanny of the angel and depth of her camera. The marching band is seen to be moving past. However, without much speed and hence very little progress, this makes a kind of scene that gives the impression of a framed miniature painting (Saleem 12).
This beauty doesn’t stop there. It continues to mesmerize the audience, the conductors back is to his audience while his bandsmen stare at their perfectly placed sheets of music in front of them. They are seated on an elevated band stand whose steps have been coated. When our internationally known artist depicts it, she frames it in a manner that make the musicians at first seem anonymous, ordered and regimented. However, she stops in one instance and then another, at some point she captures a bands man who was staring right back at the camera lens. This brings out a new picture from within the picture we were previously glued to.
Her keen study of the Pakistan Armed forces is an immediate proof of the common Anglo- Indian idiom which all British Indian army shares. This brings out her artistry in the ability to bring out the individual creations beauty from a larger creation and hence the beauty of seeing through the eyes of a miniature artist.
In her choice of the Pakistan army band as her visual capture and demonstration, she manages to trigger deep resonances of the indo- Islamic miniature paintings. From her artistic merging of the music played by the band which can simply be termed as perfectly played, perfectly framed and composed, she manages to bring the Anglo- American and the Indo- Pakistan martial cultures ranging from the songs, martial and regional, national and as well as their drill pattern that the march bands will follow, as well as the diverse effortlessness in which their bodies will relax as they break away from the band formation.
This depiction of the Pakistani army may lead us to have a bias since it brings us to the realization that the Pakistani army may not completely be at fault for usurping its civilian authority. This is mainly because it brings us to the understanding that it was not on account of their character. However, it was because of the structure of the institutions as well as the society around them (Fominaya 89).
Shahzia’s art work and the ability to capture detail, which is owed to her finesse in miniature painting, has brought about another aspect of art which not only brings style and poise to the table but it also has the ability to bring a change in the thinking of the human kind and bring about understanding of other peoples culture. This is more so because she incorporates many cultures in her art work and they manage to bring out the similarities in all of us despite our diversities. It brings understanding of the motivation factor behind a certain action from a certain people. For example, of the Pakistan army has been able to mellow the hearts of many around the world by simply being a go between and showing their side of the story.
Her work of art has also been an inspiration as it inspires upcoming artists to have beauty as well as a moral obligation to the world with the kind of art that one ventures in. it mentors young artists to become disciplined in their work and brings them to the understanding of the power of having fine and impressive art (Dev 56).
With her inspiring art, she has managed to score herself a couple of awards and fellowships which include ; the year 2006 she received the MacArthur Fellows Program as mentioned earlier, in 1999 she got the South Asian Women's Creative Collective Achievement Award, between 1998-99 she scored The Joan Mitchell Award, in 1997 she got Core Fellowship, The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, Museum of Fine Arts and Glassel School of Art, Houston between the years of 1995-97, between 1993-95 Graduate Fellowship Award, Rhode Island School of Design. In the year 1993 she received the Kipling Award / Shakir Ali Award, (highest merit award) at the National College of Arts Lahore. Also, in 1993 she managed the Haji Sharif Award; (excellence in Miniature Painting) National College of Arts, Lahore. Finally, in 1992 she got a Distinction Award, Thesis Project, National College of Arts, Lahore.
Shahzia’s art work speaks for itself as it mesmerizes her target audience. She is keen on detail and does not disappoint her fans. She has managed to take bits and pieces of simple discrete objects and combine them to form one complex painting that leaves many with the question of how the paintings came about. Her style in mixing and matching the simple into a complex has enabled her to explore the linkages between the everyday life and the work of art. Her work is breathtaking and eye catching. This is what creates a huge difference between her and other artists.