Loss, Longing, Belonging: Shahzia Sikander’s Khorfakkan Series
The NYU Intersectional Feminist/Queer Studies Collective and 19 Washington Square North present this second “INTERSECTIONALITY: generations” event, a dialogue between Shahzia Sikander and Gayatri Gopinath
March 7, 2023, Tuesday, 6 to 7:30 pm ET
19 Washington Square North
Please RSVP here to attend this in-person event.
On the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of the work of renowned Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander at 19WSN, we are delighted to present a dialogue between Sikander and Gayatri Gopinath (Director of NYU’s Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality). Sikander’s photographs, initially taken in 2012, depict the ruin and desolation of a South Asian movie theater and its sole caretaker in Khorfakkan, Sharjah, and speak poignantly to the questions of home, displacement, belonging, and unbelonging that touch the lives of many South Asian migrants in the UAE.
Renowned Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander is widely celebrated for expanding and subverting pre-modern and classical Central and South-Asian miniature painting traditions and launching the form known today as neo-miniature. Sikander has been the recipient of many notable awards, including most recently the Fukuoka Arts and Culture Prize in 2022, as well as the Asia Society Award for Significant Contribution to Contemporary Art in 2015, a Medal of Art by the U.S. Department of State in 2012, and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006. In 2021, in conjunction with her major traveling exhibition, an extensive monograph on the artist was published. Entitled Extraordinary Realities, the publication is an examination of Sikander’s work from 1987 to 2003. Sikander’s work has been exhibited and collected internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in Texas; the Morgan Library and Museum in New York; the RISD Museum in Providence, Rhode Island; Jesus College in Cambridge, United Kingdom; the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto, Canada; and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Most recently, her public installation Havah… to breathe, air, life is currently on view at the Madison Square Park Conservancy.
19WSN and the Intersectional Feminist/Queer Studies Collective at NYU are honored to present
renowned Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander’s Khorfakkan Series. Sikander
(b. 1969) is best known for her dazzling reinvention of the genre of illuminated manuscript
painting. Over the past three decades, her work has spanned multiple media, from painting to
animation to mosaic to sculpture. Photography, however, is a relatively unusual medium for
Sikander to work with, and this exhibition marks one of the first times her photographs have
been exhibited in public.
The photographs in the Khorfakkan Series were initially taken in 2012, and serve as the kernel
of Sikander’s monumental, immersive animation, Parallax, created for the 11th Sharjah
Biennale in 2013. Parallax engages on a grand scale with the complex histories of trade and
migration, colonialism and extraction that have conjoined South Asia to the Gulf for millennia;
the Khorfakkan Series renders in exquisite detail the intimacies of Emirati and South Asian
cultures and communities, and how they are felt in the everyday. The photographs are
accompanied by four of Sikander’s etchings and paintings that are related to Parallax.
The Khorfakkan Series depicts a derelict movie theater in Khorfakkan, Sharjah, and its sole
inhabitant: a Pakistani man who had initially arrived from Punjab as a construction worker to
build the cinema and who eventually became its caretaker. Sikander screened images of what
would eventually become Parallax in the ruined theater, with the caretaker as its sole audience
member: we watch the caretaker watch Sikander’s images, which quite literally imprint his own
Anthropologist Neha Vora notes that, despite decades of migration from South Asia to the UAE,
most South Asians still have no formal access to Emirati citizenship, and therefore live in a state
of “permanent temporariness.” Sikander’s photographs speak poignantly to this reality. These
are undoubtably melancholy images: they are suffused with longing for lost times, homelands,
and socialities. Yet legal exclusion necessitates other ways of making home. Paradoxically, the
Khorfakkan Series suggests that those subjected to various forms of precarity nevertheless
create imaginative and even pleasurable ways to dwell in displacement.
Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, NYU
Co-sponsored by the NYU Grey Art Gallery.
image: Shahzia Sikander, The Cypress Despite Its freedom Is Held Captive to the Garden (2012-2013), Khorfakkan Cinema, Sharjah UAE.