The Many Faces of Islam

This piece was created for the New York Times Magazine feature “Old Eyes and the New: Scenes from the Millennium, Reimagined by Living Artists,” and was published in the September 1999 issue. The two central figures hold between them a piece of American currency inscribed with a quote from the Quran: “Which, then, of your Lord’s blessing do you both deny?” The surrounding figures speak to the shifting global alliances between Muslim leaders and American empire and capital. According to Sikander, “The 1990s was about war, coalitions, alternating friends and foes, imposed sanctions, debts forgiven, and human rights brushed under the carpet as America flexed its military muscle around the world. This work took this history into account, and I proposed that American policy in Islamic countries would become a defining issue in the new millennium.”

The portraits are, clockwise from upper left: Anwar Sadat; Menachem Begin; Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Pakistani singer of Sufi devotional music; Muhammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan; Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, president of Pakistan; Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan; Malcolm X; Salman Rushdie; Nawal el Saadawi, feminist writer and physician, spokeswoman for the status of women in the Arab world; King Hussein; King Faisal; Asma Jahangir, Pakistani human rights lawyer and social activist; Hanan Ashrawi, spokeswoman for the Palestinian nation; Ayatollah Khomeini; Saddam Hussein.

Shahzia Sikander (born 1969)
The Many Faces of Islam, 1999
Gouache, watercolor, gold leaf, and graphite, on tea-stained wasli paper
Collection of the artist
© Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London.