The Scroll


In this composition, her NCA thesis, Sikander depicted herself within a house inspired by her teenage home and rendered in a style that references Safavid painting traditions. “I am a floating ghostlike presence in every chapter or segment,” she said, “privy to the unfolding narrative while functioning as a channel through which an observer can access and navigate the painting. My diaphanous moving and morphing form is rendered in white gouache, and one can never see my face. I was making a statement on the restlessness of youth and the quest for identity. The claiming of the freedom for the female body in the domestic setting.” Although the portrayal is informed by a range of traditions, everything about The Scroll—its subject, format, setting, and details—was newly imagined. Painted over a year and a half, this was a breakthrough work not just for Sikander but also for the viability of manuscript painting traditions for contemporary practice.

Shahzia Sikander (born 1969)
The Scroll, 1989–90
Watercolor and gouache on tea-stained wasli paper
Collection of the artist
© Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London.