Sift, Rift, Drip, Shift by Shahzia Sikander
When I was five years old, I began learning how to read Arabic at my local musjid. By the time I was ten, I had mastered the intricacies of the grammar, the nuances of speaking, and the memorization of these words pressed into my childhood. Yet, I was like a musician who could play the notes, but never hear the music - I never learned to understand what I read.
When I saw Sikander’s painting, titled Practice Makes Perfect, I was struck by the extent of what I worked so hard to learn, and forgot so easily. Arabic letters floating among music notes, and floral motifs were reminiscent of the rote learning that students of music and of Arabic have to go through. The dripping of the paint over the fading letters and notes disrupted the perfect repetition, and seemed to cage the whole composition. It reminded me of how my own grasp on Arabic has faded away and how language can be a cage if there is no meaning in it.It’s not the literal translation, but the poetic implications that resonate.
I had a similar experience in the RMA shrine room. When I enter, I hear the sound of mantras and without knowing their translation, they deepen the meaning.