Shahzia Sikander has developed a unique artistic language that reinvigorates the conventions of Indian and Persian miniature painting in decidedly contemporary ways. She was trained in this centuries-old tradition in Pakistan at the National College of Arts in Lahore; when she moved to the United States to attend art school, Sikander began integrating personal and contemporary symbols into her work. Varying greatly in scale and medium, Sikander’s work emphasizes its physical, often labor-intensive formats, from jewel-like paintings and narrative scrolls to wall-size installations and digital montages. Her work continually challenges established narratives and forms, staging complex and surprising intersections between East and West, old and new.
Sikander created her first published print in 1999. Initially experimenting with screenprinting, she has since explored such techniques as etching, photogravure, drypoint, and chine collé, often using a computer to reprocess and layer her image digitally. For Afloat, Sikander returned to screenprinting, creating a bold, ethereal work inspired by her installations of painting murals layered with translucent drawings. She incorporates her recurring motifs, including a headless female figure with trailing tendrils and a smaller female figure in profile. The ornamental dot patterns relate to geometric shapes, in particular the circle, with its spiritual significance of unity and infinity. Although Afloat appears to comprise multiple overlapping sheets of paper, it is actually printed on both sides of one sheet of semi-transparent Thai Mulberry paper, using gradations of color that achieve the look of layered translucency. “Identity is not a given, but a fluid process that unfolds over time,” Sikander has said, a reflection that addresses the themes of her work, but also applies to the process of printmaking.