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Research Guides

GWSS/ANTH 235: GLOBAL FEMINIST ART: Researching Shahzia Sikander's Fleshy Weapons, 1997

Resource guide for GWSS/ANTH 235

Researching Shahzia Sikander's Fleshy Weapons

This is an example of how to search for information on Shahzia Sikander's Fleshy Weapons from 1997. You can generalize the steps to fit your artist/artwork.


When you're searching for information:

•Determine what kind of information you’re looking for:  factual, biographical, statistical, graphical, etc. 
•What are the best resources to use to find that information?

Reference Resources

Background information or getting the lay of the land

  • For some topics, you may want to consult a subject-specific reference book such as Grove Dictionary of Art (part of Oxford Art Online) which is available online. In addition to background information, articles in reference resources usually include a bibliography of resources.

  • Unfortunately, due to the length of the publication cycle (even online publications have a lag time because of the peer review and editorial process) and lack of scholarly interest, it might be difficult to find a lot of information on relatively new artists--even if they've been active for a decade or longer.

  • For an artist of Shahzia Sikander's stature, however, there will be a fairly long article in Grove Dictionary of Art with a bibliography of resources at the end.  

  • You can also search Oxford Reference Online although some of the resources will be duplicated from Oxford Art Online.

Finding Historical/Contextual Information

To find historical and contextual information regarding a particular artist or artwork, you can use a variety of resources.  Some of that information may be contained in an exhibition catalog, an exhibition review, a scholarly article, or a monograph about a particular artist. 

You can also search for historical information using historical resources.  For lists of historical resources, consult the History Research Guides.

History Research Guides

However, you may need to do subject-specific research depending on the artist/artwork you choose.  Select your subject area and consult the subject-specific research guides.

Research Guides

Shahzia Sikander uses religious imagery in her work, so researching Hindu religious iconography might be useful in examining her painting, Fleshy Weapons.  In that case, consulting either a reference resource that covers religion or specifically Hinduism and Islam (as she is originally from Pakistan) might be important.  

Visual Thinking Strategies

Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a way of looking at a work of art in order to think critically about it.  There are two steps:

  • Examine a work of art for a few moments
  • Answer three questions about it:​​
    • What's going on in this painting?
    • What do you see that makes you say that?
    • What questions do you have about this painting based on what you see?



Looking at Fleshy Weapons, we see that the figure in has multiple arms and holds weapons.  Doing a Google search reveals that the Hindu goddess Durga has many arms and holds weapons.  Durga is also known as one of the warrior manifestations of Devi, the Great Goddess, so searching for that as well might be fruitful.


Going to the Religion:  Hinduism research guide and then selecting Oxford Bibliographies Online:  Hinduism will let you do a search for Durga.  One of the entries is on iconography and listed on that bibliography is the following book citation:

Berkson, Carmel. The Divine and Demoniac: Mahisha’s Heroic Struggle with Durga. Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.

An art historical, textual, and ethnographic analysis of a popular Hindu myth, the battle of the goddess Durga  and the male demon Mahisha*. Highlights issues of masculinity and femininity in classical Hindu art and in late-20th-century images and rituals.

*Note:  Also known as Mahishasura


As the figure in the painting also wears a burka (burqa), that could be an avenue of research as well, the cultural and religious importance of modesty, the power given to garments, etc.  


In order to get a close look at some of the painting's details, Artstor is invaluable as you can zoom in without losing image quality.  You can also use Artstor to find other images of Durga to compare/contrast to the figure in the painting. 


Doing a search in Google for Durga contemporary art turned up a sculpture by Rina Banerjee:  Disarming the Goddess Durga and an interview with her about the piece contrasting her sculpture with the traditional portrayal of Durga as a warrior.


Shahzia Sikander also gave an artist talk with the cultural critic Homi Bhabha at The Renaissance Society on the occasion of her exhibit there; Fleshy Weapons was one of the pieces in the exhibit and she talks about it in particular.  


Searching for Shahzia Sikander and Fleshy Weapons in Google retrieved the following article:  "Religion vs. Secularism in Art and How Shahzia Sikander and Jim Shaw Turn Social Alienation into Spiritual Engagement" from the Huffington Post.


Another source of information on Shahzia Sikander is her artist website; it features a list of her works, of exhibitions she's been in, and online clippings of reviews and interviews, and videos.