Image of Promiscuous Intimacies sculpture in bronze with varied patina
'Promiscuous Intimacies' 2020. Patinated Bronze. 42 x 24 x 18 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery

British debut of Shahzia Sikander’s Promiscuous Intimacies at the West Court gallery

Can decolonisation entail forms of intimacy? In the search for an answer to this question, the new exhibition Shahzia Sikander: Unbound focuses on the earlier and more recent works of Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander (b. 1969).

Over the course of her career, Sikander has been a pioneer in the study of early modern archives of Islamic and South Asian manuscripts for her contemporary practice.

Given its legacy of colonialism, the United Kingdom holds some of the largest collections of the very manuscripts Sikander uncovers and deconstructs. The exhibition examines her innovations within manuscript techniques such as serialisation, cutting and pasting, and calligraphy. Sikander experiments with these practices in a range of media including drawing, painting, print, mosaic, animation, and, most recently, sculpture.

"The majority of the manuscripts and paintings that inspire my practice reside in British collections and I look forward to bringing my more recent works in conversation with those archives," said Sikander.

"I'm delighted to be able to show Shahzia Sikander's work at the West Court Gallery – particularly this year, when she'll be the subject of several significant museum exhibitions in the USA, it seems especially important to give audiences in the UK the chance to see it," said Dr Jessica Berenbeim, the West Court Gallery's Curator.

The exhibition features the British debut and first outdoor installation of Promiscuous Intimacies (2020), a bronze sculpture juxtaposing European and Indian ideals of female beauty. Promiscuous Intimacies speaks to many urgent issues including race, class, history, sexuality, and gender. New paintings made by the artist in response to a seventeenth-century album of erotic Indian paintings in the collection of the Fitzwilliam Museum will also be on display.

Shahzia Sikander: Unbound is free to visit. It will run from 16 October – 22 December 2021 and 4 January – 18 February 2022 at the West Court Gallery in Jesus College, Cambridge. Please visit the event listing for the latest opening times and COVID restrictions.

Exhibition supporters and symposium

The exhibition is supported by the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies, University of Cambridge, the Pilar Corrias Gallery and the Bagri Foundation, London. It is curated by Dr Vivek Gupta, Postdoctoral Associate in Islamic Art, with the assistance of History of Art students.

It is accompanied by a scholarly symposium at Jesus College, which will be open to the public on 11–12 February 2022.