WED September 22 (Morgan Library & Madison Square Park) 

WED September 22 (Morgan Library & Madison Square Park) 

Morgan Library: https://www.themorgan.org/

Exhibition Link: https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/shahzia-sikander 

https://www.themorgan.org/exhibitions/online/shahzia-sikander

Ghost Trees: https://madisonsquarepark.org/art/exhibitions/maya-lin-ghost-forest/

What is Missing: https://www.whatismissing.org/

This week we toured the Morgan Library Museum and saw the new exhibition by Shahzia Sikander. Later we walked through Madison Square park and saw Maya Lin’s new installation Ghost Trees. 

The show “Extraordinary Realities” focused on Shahzia Sikander’s journey from Pakistan to Houston and finally New York. It also tracks the first 15 years of her artistic journey throughout the process of moving. She originally was trained in the arts of Persian Miniature painting in the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan. Later she came to the US to continue her career at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). 

Walking through the exhibition, I was struck by how detailed her work is. Even though the images are often very tiny, they are extremely detailed. I also really liked the timeline that was shown. The exhibition was broken down into a few parts, beginning with Shakir’s early works. These works reflect the painstaking technique of Mugal miniature painting to evoke the condition of modern Pakistani women. Next in the exhibition is work from Sikander’s 2 years at RISD. In these works we see the artist beginning to experiment, as there are many different types of images such as black ink drawing of the female body, exaggeration (especially of breasts and thighs) as well as a replacement of hands and feet with long looping tendrils. The next section features works from when the artist was attending the Glassell School of art in Houston, Texas. Much of this work has a critique on the ideals and history of colonialism. The following sections show Sikander’s work as she moved to New York in 1997 and the treatment of Muslims after 9/11. Another contemporary artist named Julie Mehretu, commented on the unique style, technique and subject matter of Shakir’s work explaining that Sikander’s exhibition openings bring together groups that were (and are still today) usually invisible in the art world and that rarely mixed with one another: Pakistani with Indian, East African with African American, trans with cis. In her early works there are less experimental aspects and you can really see her training as a miniature painter. However, as you progressed through the rest of the exhibition you could see how her work began to change, with more abstract elements and even into other mediums such as installation. I thought this was really interesting in relation to some of the themes she explores, such as human identity. It is always moving and changing. Shakir’s growth and experimentation reflects this idea as well. 

One of her larger paintings was an unfinished piece from a mural she was commissioned to paint. However, when this figure was misunderstood and Shakir was asked to change the image she declined and pulled out of the commission. This stuck with me. I give the artist a lot of credit for the ability to not compromise her vision or her goals and to recognize that she might not be the right artist for the job. 

Later in the day we saw an installation in Madison Square park from Maya Lin. In this public art exhibition Lin planted 49 already dead Atlantic white cedar trees in the middle of Madison Square Park. While the artist is primarily known for her architecture, including the designs of the vietnam war memorial, her most recent works have been focused more on the environment and climate change. There is a really interesting contrast between these dead, barren trees and the less harsh, green, lively trees that surround it. Although the piece is very simple the message is hard to miss; climate change is very real and our planet is dying. 

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