Shahzia Sikander questions authority with new video art medium at Para/Site in Hong Kong

PAKISTANI CONTEMPORARY VIDEO ART

SpiNN (2003) by Shahzia Sikander, still image of video

SpiNN (2003) by Shahzia Sikander, still image of video

Art Radar talks to Pakistani miniaturist and video-maker Shahzia Sikander on the occasion of her debut show in China.
The internationally acclaimed Shahzia Sikander spent 2003-2008 performing an in-depth study of the moving image and the fruits of her analysis are on display at “Authority as Approximation,” her first solo exhibition in China at the Para/Site Art Space in Hong Kong.
Curated by Alvaro Rodriguez Fominaya, the 5 works on display are video art pieces that challenge authority and question existing stereotypes of Pakistani culture.

The exhibition is unique as it stands as her first show comprising only moving images, and continues her practice of critically deconstructing traditional imagery of India and Pakistan.

For this event the venue is transformed into a black-box screening gallery, allowing viewers to appreciate Shahzia Sikander’s treatment of the video medium, which represents a departure from her seminal miniature drawings, and highlights her approach to new media.

The show displays her past video work ‘SpiNN’ (2003), which was shown in the Venice Biennial Arsenale exhibition, and emphasizes her latest film, the video-essay ‘Bending the Barrels’ (2008), which debuted in New York early in 2009. The subject of Sikander’s ‘Bending the Barrels’ is a Pakistani Army military brass band performing in formation, which is examined as a politcal device. On the meaning of this film, cultural critic Aditya Dev Sood explains:

“In her choice of Pakistani Army Bands as a subject for visual capture and representation, Sikander triggers deep resonances from within the tradition of Indo-Islamic miniature painting. The corporeal language, rhythm, space-making and compositional effects that she discovers and creates in film appear rooted in courtly spectacles as well as in their painterly representation, in various Mughal and later Company and British Imperial styles.”

Bending the Barrels (2008), by Shahzia Sikander, still image of video.

Bending the Barrels (2008), by Shahzia Sikander, still image of video.

It’s all about the drawings

Sikander specializes in drawing, and all of her art is conceived in this way and then evolves into various mediums.

As an artist she wears many hats: she also programs animation and operates the camera when shooting film. She creates animations from scanned drawings using the applications Photoshop and Fireworks.

For her film work, she was permitted to operate the camera at the Pakistani military facility herself. However, regarding what medium she chooses, she remarks “the idea dictates the medium.” Unconcerned with medium, she has no preference whether an image is moving or not, and instead chooses what best facilitates communication. However, despite the medium of a work, it will eventually be reflected in Shahzia’s 2D drawings. She comments “Even during filming, it was all research or fodder for drawing.”

Unprecedented Access

Perhaps most surprising about this exhibit is that Sikander, who lives in New York City and is married to an American, was able to gain access into a Pakistani military facility to film original footage of the army’s brass band. Sikander explains that she was allowed inside and permitted to film because she won a military medal in 2003 as an honored Pakistani artist, and was thus granted entry. However, she added that “I find when a project is approached with intent and clarity, I have always been granted access and goodwill has been reciprocated.” Her American husband was also allowed inside the facility to film with her.

Video art: “It’s always been there”

Sikander’s exploration into the moving image reinforces the rising trend of video art. However, Shahzia sees video art as far more than a trend, saying “It’s always been there at the forefront of contemporary expression.” She suggests video art will only become more pervasive, commenting “It’s easier to send a disc, and its immediacy allows for a larger audience… [With Youtube] Everyone now has the freedom to become a videographer.”

The exhibition runs from Sept 2-Sept 30, 2009, at the Para/Site Art Space in Sheung Wan, Hong Kong.

-contributed by Erin Wooters

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