Past Event

Breaking Binaries: Thinking About Art in the Covid Age

November 12, 2020
9:30 PM - 11:00 PM
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The current crises of the pandemic, social justice, and climate have laid bare the deep fissures in our worlds, demanding that we reimagine and articulate the possibilities that go beyond narrow binaries of national/global or past/ present. Shahzia Sikander, a leading artist who routinely creates new worlds out of tradition and contemporaneity, and Vishakha Desai, an art historian and author of an upcoming memoir “ World as Family: a journey of Multi-Rooted Belongings” (Columbia University Press, February 2021) will engage in a wide-ranging conversation about art, ideas and notions of global belonging. Art images and the Miniature 2.0 Exhibition at the Pera Museum in Istanbul will form the basis of the conversation.

About the Speakers

Shahzia Sikander

Shahzia Sikander, born in Lahore, Pakistan, 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. Sikander’s breakthrough work, The Scroll (1989-90), 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 moved to the United States in 1993 to pursue her MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design, which she completed in 1995.

Pakistani-born and internationally recognized, 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 forms of new media. 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. Trained as a miniaturist at the National College of Arts, Lahore, where her thesis project, the Scroll, launched what has come to be called the neo-miniature and where she was the first woman to teach miniature painting her works encompass painting, drawing, animation, installation, video, and film.

Shahzia Sikander will be the subject of a traveling exhibition titled Shahzia Sikander: Extraordinary Realities which 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.

Vishakha Desai

Dr. Vishakha Desai is Senior Advisor for Global Affairs to the President of Columbia University, Vice-Chair of the Committee on Global Thought and Senior Research Scholar in Global Studies at the School of International and Public Affairs.  Dr. Desai served as President and CEO of the Asia Society, a global organization dedicated to strengthening partnerships among peoples of Asia and the U.S. from 2004 through 2012.  As President, she set the direction for the Society’s diverse sets of programs ranging from policy initiatives and national educational programs to ground breaking exhibitions and performing arts programs throughout its network of eleven offices in the U.S. and Asia.  Under her leadership the society expanded the scope and scale of its activities with the opening of new offices in India and Korea, a new center of U.S.–China Relations, and inauguration of two new architecturally distinguished facilities in Hong Kong and Houston.  

Before joining the Asia Society in 1990, Dr. Desai was at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston as a Curator for Indian and Southeast Asian art and as the Head of Public Programs and Academic Affairs.  She has taught at Columbia University, Boston University, and the University of Massachusetts where she was given a tenured appointment.  A Scholar of Asian Art and a public intellectual, Dr. Desai is a frequent speaker at international forums on subjects focusing on the cultural roots of Asia’s economic and political transformation and challenges.  She has authored opinion pieces on political, cultural, and women’s development in Asia that have appeared in more than fifty publications around the world. Author of major exhibition catalogues and editor of a major scholarly publication on Asian Art History for the 21st Century. She has served on numerous other boards of not-for-profit organizations nationally and internationally. These include but are not limited to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Brookings Institution, Bertelsmann Foundation, Auroville Foundation of India, and the House of World Cultures in Berlin.

Dr. Desai holds a B.A. in Political Science from Bombay University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Asian Art History from the University of Michigan.  The recipient of numerous international and national grants and fellowships, Dr. Desai has received five honorary degrees from American Universities.  For her work on Asian American issues, she has received awards from the University of Massachusetts, the City University of New York, Asian Americans for Equality, and Leadership Education for Asian Pacific Americans (LEAP). For her leadership in the arts, she has been honored by Art Table, a national organization of women leaders in the arts, and has received a Gold Medal from the National Institute of Social Sciences.  Dr. Desai was selected by Crain’s New York as one of the “100 most powerful women leaders” in New York, by India Abroad, the leading national weekly for Indian Americans, as one the “50 most distinguished Indian Americans,” and was honored by Zee T.V. (India) as the outstanding International Woman of the Year. In 2012, in recognition of Dr. Desai’s leadership in the museum field, President Barack Obama appointed her to serve on the National Museums and Library Services Board.