Fear in the Garden of Eden

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The Illustrated Page Series #1, 2005-6, Work on paper (gouache hand painting, gold leaf, and silkscreen pigment), 80×66 inches (framed), made in collaboration with the Fabric Workshop and Museum.

I thought I’d add a few images of Shahzia Sikander’s work at the Fabric Workshop and Museum (see Roberta’s post), a) because the pair of book pages is flat-out beautiful and b) because I think her work is important and I’ve been in love with it for a number of years.

If you went to Swarm at the Fab, you’ll probably remember that Sikander contributed a video in which swarming motifs from classical Indian miniature painting take on a menacing quality as a crowd of priests (I think they were priests) grows and dematerializes in an endless loop. The same swarm motif in the current video on view, Dissonance to Detour, becomes a spinning mandala, but this piece is not quite as interesting, the abstraction of the imagery killing much hope of narrative.

The Illustrated Page Series #1 (top image), which was completed in cooperation with the Fabric Workshop, holds the greatest interest. It may only be one piece, but it’s complex and it’s worth going out of your way to visit. As I understand it, two more pieces in the series are being made in cooperation with the Fabric Workshop.


detail, Illustrated Page Series #1

Within a series of borders a landscape inspired by Indian miniatures, subcontinent mythologies, and Western art all meet in layers of silk-screened and hand-painted imagery. How all this stuff–East, West, past, present, art, non-art– meets (I had to laugh at the soccer balls in one of the borders) and coheres is the thing that makes Sikander worth your time. The layers of borders that frame the two landscapes suggest a storybook at the same time that they suggest picture frames and formalized approaches to art. The landscapes within are idealized, candy-colored Gardens of Eden menaced by flying things. As readers, we get to define that menace.


left to right, Pathology of Suspension #5, 2005, gouache on paper, 77 ½ H x 51 ½ inches, Courtesy Sikkema Jenkins and Co., NYC;
Pathology of Suspension #7, 2005, gouache on prepared paper, 85 H x 58 ½ inches, courtesy Eileen and Richard Ekstract, and Illustrated Page Series #1

Each night, when I bother to watch the evening news, I am appalled by how not only our president, but also the media, contribute to our sense of menace. It’s not just the color-coded Department of Homeland Security that has people anxious and it’s not just Moussaoui’s rantings. We have reached a point where a simple rainfall gets treated as a threat.

Sikander is writing the book about the mythology of our times, and it’s embattled.

By the way, Sikander will speak at the FWM Friday at 6 p.m., preceded by a members-only exhibition tour with the artist at 5 p.m.

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