Shahzia Sikander has created major new work on the theme of justice for a multimedia exhibition in Madison Square Park, New York, and the nearby Courthouse of the Appellate Division, First Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York. With this exhibition, Sikander presents female figures as symbols of power and justice and examines long-standing practices and attitudes impeding the advancement of women.
The exhibition marks the artist's first major, site-specific outdoor presentation in sculptural form. In Madison Square Park, Sikander’s towering golden female figure, Witness (2023), is embellished by a steel hoopskirt with calligraphic mosaic details, inspired by the domed stained-glass ceiling of the historic courtroom, with its leaded lines that resemble the longitudinal and latitudinal lines on a globe – a proclamation of the figure's authority in the world.
Also on view in the park is Reckoning (2020), Sikander’s animated film, in which two warriorlike forms are entangled in a joust. The film reveals the cyclical theme of struggle through kinetic form, reflecting upon the relationships that embody moments of reckoning, such as those between migrant and citizen, woman and power, human and nature.
Installed on the rooftop of the Courthouse, and visible from the street, is Sikander’s sculpture NOW (2023). Rising from the base of a lotus plant (a symbol of wisdom), it is the first female figure to be installed amongst the sculptures of nine male legislators, including Confucius, Justinian and Moses.
Through her work, the artist addresses systems of justice and injustice by situating women in positions of authority. Sikander has stated: “If we use art, media, and culture to reverse stereotypes about gender, race, immigrants, and the unfamiliar, the beliefs we pass on to future generations reflect the complex and dynamic world we live in.”
Havah…to breathe, air, life is co-commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy and Public Art of the University of Houston System (Public Art UHS). The exhibition will be on view in New York until 4 June 2023, before traveling to Houston.