Collective Behavior

Multiple women overlap and create a circular flower shape with pink petals stemming from the figures’ skirts. The form is suspended against green foliage.

Shahzia Sikander (Pakistani and American, b. 1969), Arose, 2020, glass mosaic with patinated brass frame, Courtesy of Joel S. Pizzuti, © Shahzia Sikander.

Shahzia Sikander: Collective Behavior is the most comprehensive presentation of the artist’s work to date, illustrating her distinctive iconography and continuous invention across media. The exhibition begins with her breakthrough work The Scroll (1989-90), created for her graduate thesis project at Lahore’s National College of Arts, which established her position at the vanguard of the neo-miniature movement. Encompassing the spectrum of her creative output from that career-launching work to the present-day, Collective Behavior also debuts new works by Sikander that respond to the architecture and history of the Palazzo Soranzo van Axel, the city of Venice, and global histories of trade and artistic exchange.

Rather than proceeding chronologically, Collective Behavior follows Sikander’s primary ideas and lexicon of forms as they appear and reappear throughout her work. The exhibition is divided into three sections:

Point of Departure explores Sikander’s engagement with South Asian and Persian historic manuscript illustrations, demonstrating her roots in—and disruptions of—these traditions.

The Feminine Space highlights Sikander’s ongoing address of gender and body politics through a dynamic visual vocabulary that has evolved throughout her career.

Negotiated Landscapes and Contested Histories surveys Sikander’s responses to the complex histories of colonialism in South Asia and their legacies in contemporary language, trade, empire, and migration patterns.

Each section functions independently and in conversation with the others, mirroring the way that Sikander’s motifs create meaning as discrete units and through their interdependence, producing a commanding “collective behavior.” This exhibition positions Sikander as an American artist, a Pakistani artist, a Muslim artist, a feminist artist, and most significantly, as a global citizen who mines the past to make visible new possibilities for the future.

This exhibition is organized and presented by the Cincinnati Art Museum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

This presentation is made possible through the generosity of the Terra Foundation for American Art, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, presenting sponsor Kenneth J. Birdwell, and individual supporters Rebecca and Irad Carmi, and Lauren Rich Fine. Generous funding for Collective Behavior comes from Sean Kelly Gallery and the CMA Fund for Exhibitions.

Additional support comes from the Albert B. Cord Charitable Foundation; Pace Prints, New York; Pilar Corrias Gallery; Twelve Gates Arts; anonymous donors; Shakila T. Ahmad; Tanu Bhati; Saba A. Chughtai; Julie and Abhijit Desai; Liz Grubow and Jerry Kathman; JoLynn and Byron Gustin, Syed Zubair Haq; Alina Khan; Zofeen Khan; Samar Kaukab and Haroon Moghul; Helen Little; Soumya S. Patnaik; Ron Pizzuti; Kristi Nelson and Stewart Goldman; and Sara M. Vance Waddell.

Organizing Institutions
Cincinnati Art Museum
The Cleveland Museum of Art

Exhibition Curators
Ainsley M. Cameron
Emily Liebert

Shahzia Sikander

D. H. office

Exhibition Architecture
Philipp Krummel

Graphic Design
Sebastiano Girardi Studio