SHAHZIA SIKANDER
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THE SCROLL, 1989-90

The Scroll was the first time a BFA student made an experimental thesis of this nature at the National College of Arts, Lahore. Made of dry pigment, watercolor, and gouache on wasli paper, The Scroll won the Haji Sharif award, which is given to an individual for excellence in the miniature painting department. As Salima Hashmi wrote in 1992 of The Scroll, “The enfolding of the narrative, which began as a self-portrait and then proceeds to become a delicate blend of fact and fantasy is a real tour-de-force…She intelligently incorporates conventions from the Persian and Moghul and then defies them in her treatment of form and surface.” This painting was a breakthrough primarily because it challenged the existing requirements of the department to illustrate traditional rituals, and instead inserted the personal into the field. In addition, the format was innovative: unlike earlier single-page miniature paintings, Sikander’s 5-foot painting combined multiple narratives into a singular frame.

The Scroll was made at a time when miniature painting was not yet popularized, and Sikander had a prescient understanding of the potential in engaging with the medium, both technically and conceptually. As Quddus Mirza wrote in 2004 in Pakistan’s Encore: The News on Sunday, Sikander’s work “proved a breakthrough not only for the painter’s individual practice, but carved a new way for generations of miniature artists to experiment in multiple directions.”