A New Commission by Artist Shahzia Sikander
A spectacular, sprawling sixty-six-foot mosaic and a twenty-five-foot luminous multilayered glass painting by the acclaimed Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander will join the Museum’s collections this fall. The two site-specific works will be permanently installed at the newly renovated 20 Washington Road, the former Frick Chemistry Laboratory and now the new home to the Economics Department and the Louis A. Simpson *60 International Building at Princeton. Overlooking the building’s large open-lit common areas—the glass painting in the Economics Forum and the mosaic in the International Atrium—the works are Sikander’s first foray into glass.
Multivalent and interdisciplinary, Sikander’s work at Princeton will offer a lens to a practice built on critical thinking, creativity, and an inventive collabo-ration between form and meaning. “I have built my entire understanding of being an artist on a narrative that continues to investigate discourse styles, verbal and poetic language, migration patterns, cultural quarantine, interaction, and ultimately human identity,” states the artist.
One of Sikander’s points of departure for the commission was an encounter with the Princeton University Library’s late sixteenth-century Peck Shahnama during the Museum’s exhibition Princeton’s Great Persian Book of Kings. The manuscript is one of the finest intact Shahnamas in the United States and an archetype of the epic poem by the tenth-century Persian poet Firdausi. History and storytelling feature prominently in Sikander’s work, in which she digs into literary and visual canons across the proverbial East-West divide. Her diverse practice investigates the blurred boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, storytelling and history writing, calling into question issues around redaction, perception of authority, and independence.
The nine panels that comprise the window in the Economics Forum are secured within a carbon steel frame adjacent to the second floor corridor. The window was created by hand-painting ceramic colors within thin layers of glass, a technique pioneered by Mayer of Munich, a German studio specializing in stained glass and mosaics, with whom Sikander collaborated on both projects. The scrolling mosaic in the International Atrium, made of glass, ceramic, and marble, extends up from the bottom level of the forum on the wall adjacent to the staircase.
Sikander is best known for contemporizing the traditional Indo-Persian discipline of miniature painting. She took up the craft-based practice in Pakistan in the late 1980s amidst the oppressive climate of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime, at a time when the medium was unpopular with that generation’s youth and miniature painting was largely unknown to the global contemporary art world. Sikander received the MacArthur Fellowship (2006) and the U.S. State Department Medal of Arts (2012) and is the 2016 recipient of the Religion and Arts Award from the American Academy of Religion. She has had solo exhibitions throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Australia, and Hong Kong and most recently exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (2015), and the MAXXI in Rome, Italy (2016). Her work is represented in museum collections throughout the world.
Manager of Campus Collections