Weeping Willows, Liquid Tongues
"Weeping Willows, Liquid Tongues" marks Shazia Sikander's inaugural solo exhibition at Sean Kelly Gallery. The featured works encompass an array of media, from drawings to mosaics to videos—as well as the artist's first-ever free-standing sculpture. Titled Promiscuous Intimacies (2020), its bronze form depicts a pair of female figures—one modeled after an 11th-century Indian Devata statuette; the other based on the portrayal of Venus in Bronzino's 16th-century Mannerist masterpiece, An Allegory with Venus and Cupid—who appear frozen in an erotically charged embrace. In a forthcoming essay, New York University professor Gayatri Gopinath describes how the piece—in splicing together "multiple times, spaces, art historical traditions, bodies, desires, and subjectivities"—subverts the notion that clear-cut cultural and historical narratives accurately convey analogous realities.
In a recent thread on Twitter, Sikander claims to have arrived at the show's title while "fiddling in the space between thinking [and] painting." She goes on to state how "Weeping Willows, Liquid Tongues," as a phrase, "refers to [an] in[-]between zone where silence resounds, melancholy illuminates, … [where] truth emerges from darkness, where art, poetry and literature inspire desire over fear."
In her practice, the Pakistani-born artist—who moved to the United States in the early 1990s and currently lives in New York City—likewise aims to make sense out of interrelated global forces: from capitalism and the climate crisis to politics and the relativity of power. For instance, Arose (2019-20), in evoking the veined petals of a poppy, alludes to the Afghan opium industry and the effects of the West's decades-long involvement in the region. The poppy motif returns, bloodily, in Oil and Poppies (2019-20) [pictured], on the surface of which crimson pigments drips and coalesce like viscous oil. Out of this carnage appears the silhouette of a Christmas tree—that potent symbol of American culture, and no less its blood-red colonialist foundations.
Shahzia Sikander, Oil and Poppies, 2019-2020. Ink and gouache on paper paper, 98 x 51 inches.