Saleem H. Ali in Pakistan’s Daily Times:
Every year, the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation provides a generous award of US$500,000 each “to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits”. The MacArthur fellows are free to use the funds as they please over five years without any ‘strings attached’. Some might pay off a mortgage, while others invest in a scholarship or finance a sabbatical. The recipients range in their expertise from neuroscience to carpentry, and are selected through a rather opaque but rigorous nomination and review process conducted by the foundation under utmost secrecy. Among the twenty-five recipients this year is an artist of Pakistani lineage, Shahzia Sikander, who was recognised for “merging the traditional South Asian art of miniature painting with contemporary forms and styles to create visually compelling, resonant works on multiple scales and in a dazzling array of media”.
Traditionally, visual art has been a culturally reductive form of human expression, whereby communities, tribes, cities and countries have defined their identity. We have been quick to label art as ‘eastern or western’, ‘indigenous or foreign’, ‘Christian or Islamic’, and so the list goes on as galleries define their areas of specialty. However, artists such as Shahzia Sikander are transcending such categorisations and resent being exoticised as simply Asian or Pakistani.