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Shahzia Sikander

Photo by Matthias Ziegler

Born in Lahore, Pakistan, Shahzia Sikander received her BFA in 1991 from the National College of Arts, Lahore, Pakistan, where she underwent rigorous training under master miniaturist Bashir Ahmed. The first student Ahmed invited to teach alongside him, she subsequently became the first artist from the Miniature Painting Department at the NCA to challenge the medium’s technical and aesthetic framework. In addition, she was the first woman to teach miniature painting at the school. Sikander moved to the United States in 1993 to pursue her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design, which she completed in 1995.

Sikander’s thesis project, The Scroll (1989-90), launched what has come to be called the neo-miniature. This breakthrough project received national critical acclaim in Pakistan, winning the prestigious Shakir Ali and Haji Sharif awards for excellence in miniature painting and launching the medium into the forefront of the NCA’s program. Sikander’s innovative work led to her meteoric rise internationally in the mid-nineties with survey exhibitions at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago (1998), the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art (1998), the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (1999), and the Whitney Museum of American Art (2000).  

Shahzia Sikander ’s pioneering practice takes classical Indo-Persian miniature painting as its point of departure and challenges the strict formal tropes of the genre by experimenting with scale and various media including painting, drawing, animation, installation, video and film. Informed by South Asian, American, Feminist and Muslim perspectives, Sikander has developed a unique, critically charged approach to this time-honored medium – employing its continuous capacity for reinvention to interrogate ideas of language, trade and empire, and migration. 

Shahzia Sikander will be the subject of a traveling exhibition titled Shahzia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities. The exhibition will open at The Morgan Library, New York in June 2021 followed by the RISD Museum, Rhode Island in November 2021, and MFA Houston, Texas in Spring 2022. On the occasion of these exhibitions, there will be a major new monograph printed. Extraordinary Realities, is an exhaustive examination of Sikander’s work from 1987 to 2003, charting her early development as an artist in Lahore and the United States, and foregrounding her critical role in bringing miniature painting into dialogue with contemporary art. Edited by Jan Howard and Sadia Abbas, with contributions by Gayatri Gopinath, Faisal Devji, Kishwar Rizvi, Sadia Abbas, Jan Howard, Vasif Kortun, Dennis Congdon, Bashir Ahmed, Rick Lowe and Julie Mehretu.

Sikander has had major solo exhibitions throughout the world, including the Weatherspoon Art Museum, Greensboro, North Carolina (2019); the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (2017); the Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (2017); MAXXI | Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome (2016); the Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong (2016); the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2015); the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C. (2012); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2010); the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2007); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney (2007); the Pérez Art Museum Miami (2005); and at the San Diego Museum of Art, California (2004). Sikander has also participated in significant international group shows such as Miniature 2.0,Pera Art Musuem, Istanbul, Turkey (2020); We Do Not Dream Alone, Asia Society Triennial, Asia Society, New York (2020); Modest Fashion, Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam, The Netherlands (2019); Shehr-O-Funn, Lahore Biennale 01, Pakistan (2018); Witness, Karachi Biennale 17, Pakistan (2017); Our Land / Alien Territory, 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, Manege, Russia (2015); Infinite Challenge, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul (2014); Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh (2014); Mom, am I barbarian? 13th Istanbul Biennial, Turkey (2013); If you were to live here…5th Auckland Triennial, New Zealand (2013); Re:emerge, Towards a New Cultural Cartography, Sharjah Biennale 11, Sharjah Art Foundation, UAE (2013); Future Pass: From Asia to the World, 54th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Italy (2011); Taswir: Pictorial Mappings of Islam of Modernity, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin (2009); Without Boundaries, Seventeen Ways of Looking, the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2006); Always a little further, 51st International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, Italy (2005); and the Whitney Biennial, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (1997).

Amongst the numerous awards, grants, and fellowships Sikander has received are the KB17 Karachi Biennale Shahneela and Farhan Faruqui Popular Choice Art Prize (2017); the Religion and the Arts Award (2016); the Asia Society Award for Significant Contribution to Contemporary Art (2015); the National Medal of Arts Award presented by U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton (2012); the John D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation Achievement ‘Genius’ award, (2006), and Tamgha-e-Imtiaz, the National Pride of Honor Award presented by the Pakistani Government (2005).

Her work can be found in the permanent collections of many prestigious institutions worldwide, including the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas, Austin; Brooklyn Museum, New York; DESTE Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Athens; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.; Linda Pace Foundation, San Antonio; MAXXI | Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, amongst others. In 2017, Sikander’s first major public art commission, a spectacular sixty-six-foot mosaic and a twenty-five-foot luminous multilayered glass painting, was installed in the Economics Department and Louis A. Simpson International Building at Princeton University. In the same year, MoMA Publications released a children’s book about Sikander entitled, Shahzia Sikander: My Life as an Artist.

Sikander lives and works in New York City.



In conversation: Shahzia Sikander and Jeffrey Grove, December 3, 2020

Breaking Binaries: Thinking About Art in the Covid Age - Shahzia Sikander and Vishakha Desai, Pera Müzsei

Shahzia Sikander in conversation with Sadia Abbas and Ayad Akhtar, September 30, 2020


On the occasion of her forthcoming exhibition, Weeping Willows, Liquid Tongues, which will take place at the gallery from November 5 through December 19, 2020, Shahzia Sikander will be in conversation with Sadia Abbas, writer and professor at Rutgers University-Newark and the Stavros Niarchos Center for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University and Ayad Akhtar, Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright and author. They will discuss Sikander’s exhibition, Sadia Abbas' forthcoming publication, Shahzia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities and Ayad Akhtar’s much acclaimed new book Homeland Elegies.

The Art of Independence: Visions of the Future in India and Pakistan


A conference held at at the Ashmolean Museum on October 12, 2017 and the Courtauld Institute of Art on October 13, 2017, convened by Faisal Devji and Mallica Kumbera Landrus (University of Oxford) with Deborah Swallow and Zehra Jumabhoy (The Courtauld Institute of Art, London). The conference was co-organised by the Ashmolean Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art—Sackler Research Forum, the Oxford Centre for Global History and the Asian Studies Centre of St Antony’s College, and co-funded by the Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development of Somerville College, the John Fell Fund, the Radhakrishnan Fund, the University Engagement Programme (funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation), and the Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities.


Day 2, Futures Lost and Found: Citizenship and Contemporary Art (The Courtauld Institute of Art, London) Shahzia Sikander in conversation with Faisal Devji

Shahzia Sikander: Disruption as Rapture, Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 15, 2017

Drawing in Glass: Shahzia Sikander at Princeton University, Princeton University Art Museum, May 22, 2017

MAXXI Museum, Shahzia Sikander: Ecstasy As Sublime, Heart As Vector, July 12, 2016

Shahzia Sikander on Persian Miniature Painting, The Artist Project, Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 15, 2015

Shahzia Sikander at Sharjah Biennial 11, Artist to Artist, Art 21, October 11, 2013

SHORT: Shahzia Sikander: "The Last Post", Art 21 "Exclusive", January 25, 2013

Shahzia Sikander at the 13th Istanbul Biennial, Artist to Artist, Art 21, October 25, 2013