Shahzia Sikander

(American, b. Pakistan 1969)

Havah…to breathe, air, life, 2023

Co-Commissioned with Madison Square Park Conservancy, New York

October 2023 – June 2024

For the multimedia exhibition Havah… to breathe, air, life, artist Shahzia Sikander has created major new work on the theme of justice. It features the large-scale sculpture Witness (2023), which can be transformed with Snap AR technology. By opening the Snapchat app on their device, visitors scan a Snapcode to unlock Apparition (2023), an experience featuring a display of colorful particles and ghostlike images of the figures. Reckoning, a 2020 video animation by Sikander, visually intertwines the distinct elements. Havah… is a culmination of Sikander’s exploration of female representation in monuments and marks her first major, site-specific outdoor exhibition in sculptural form. 

Havah…to breathe, air, life is co-commissioned by Public Art UHS and Madison Square Park Conservancy and it is the first major co-commission for both institutions. The exhibition will be on view in Madison Square Park and the nearby Courthouse of the Appellate Division, First Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, from January 17 through June 4, 2023. It opens at the University of Houston in October 2023.

“Through luminous allegorical female figures, Shahzia’s project asks who is historically represented and who wields power in the justice system, both symbolically and actually,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “Shahzia continues to innovate artistic forms, and Havah, meaning ‘air’ or ‘atmosphere’ in Urdu and ‘Eve’ in Arabic and Hebrew, is a transformative project. The work conceptually and physically unites the park and the courthouse through dialogue amongst monumental sculptures, video, and augmented reality.”

“With Havah…to breathe, air, life, Shahzia demonstrates how justice is conceptually and actively vibrant across cultures and genders,” said Dr. Maria C. Gaztambide, Executive Director and Chief Curator of Public Art UHS. “And yet, while the necessity of justice is universal, it is often blindly applied. Shahzia brings to the fore the imbalances of gender and race through this exceptional work. We are proud to join forces with Madison Square Park in bringing it to fruition, while amplifying its reach beyond New York City.” 

About the Artist:

Shahzia Sikander expands and subverts pre-modern and classical Central and South-Asian painting traditions through a broad range of materials and methods, including miniature painting, works on paper, video, mosaic, and sculpture. Distinguished for launching the neo-miniature movement, Sikander investigates conceptual premises in language, trade, empire, migration through feminist perspectives, colonial, and imperial power structures through her far-reaching practice.

Sikander’s innovative work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Her traveling exhibition on the first 15 years of her art practice, Extraordinary Realities, opened at The Morgan Library in New York in 2021 and traveled to the RISD Museum and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Shahzia Sikander: Unbound, opened in 2021 at Jesus College, University of Cambridge, and explored the artist’s innovative use of manuscripts.

Sikander is a 2006 MacArthur Foundation Fellow and received the United States Medal of Arts in 2012. The artist became a Fukuoka Laureate in 2022 as a recipient of the Arts and Culture Prize from Fukuoka City, Japan. She earned her B.F.A. from National College of Arts in Lahore, an M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design, and participated in Glassell School of Art’s CORE Program at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.


University of Houston

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