Studying in Lahore

In 1987, Sikander enrolled at Lahore’s National College of Arts (NCA) and began her study of manuscript painting—or miniature painting, as the discipline is referred to there. It was an unexpected choice for a major. Western models of art instruction prevailed at the NCA, and although the miniature had long been taught, a major had only been established in 1982, by Professor Bashir Ahmad; it was not considered a path for an ambitious artist. “I chose the medium,” Sikander explains, “when it was widely considered craft, with no room allowed for creative expression, because I perceived a frontier.”

Sikander was the first student at the NCA to develop an intense mentorship with Ahmad, delving deeply into the discipline’s history, techniques, and styles. Ahmad supported Sikander’s deviation from the thesis requirements to create one monumental work, The Scroll (1989–90), which received significant attention and acclaim. Sikander’s success led to increased enrollment in the NCA program, her appointment as a lecturer in miniature painting at the school, and the start of a so-called neominiature movement.

The Morgan Library & Museum. Artwork © Shahzia Sikander, Photography © Casey Kelbaugh