Venus's Wonderland

Barely contained within the decorative border of this painting is a fanciful cast of characters brought together from several different narratives. The biblical story of the serpent is reimagined here as a monkey tempting Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. Eve is posed as Venus in Botticelli’s iconic painting The Birth of Venus, with the crocodile lying in her shell. Sikander’s use of animals to convey human traits is grounded in a collection of fables in the Persian illustrated manuscript tradition, Kalila wa-Dimna—itself a translation of the Panchatantra, an Indian fable collection written around the third century. Its story of the relationship between a crocodile and a monkey who lives in an apple tree is also referenced here.

Shahzia Sikander (born 1969)
Venus’s Wonderland, 1995–97
Watercolor and traces of graphite on tea-stained wasli paper
Rachel and Jean-Pierre Lehmann Collection
© Shahzia Sikander. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly, New York and Pilar Corrias, London.