Simurgh Study after "Zal Is Sighted by a Caravan," Attributed to Abdul Aziz


This scene—an example of Sikander’s early interest in fantastic creatures—refers to the extraordinary sixteenth-century manuscript known as the Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp, now disassembled. Based on a leaf at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Sikander’s version focuses on the simurgh, a magical bird from Persian mythology. The simurgh symbolizes divinity in the twelfth-century Sufi allegorical tale The Conference of the Birds. In Islamic belief, birds in flight are associated with the ascension of the soul to a higher realm. Birds are rich in personal meaning for Sikander, who frequently equates them with imagination.

Shahzia Sikander (born 1969)
Simurgh Study after “Zal Is Sighted by a Caravan,” Attributed to Abdul Aziz, 1988
Watercolor on wasli paper
Collection of William Drew and Ruth Davis
© Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London.