Sheherzade's Gift


One of the most enduring and influential books in global popular culture is A Thousand and One Nights. Understood as an amalgamation of fables originating from West and South Asia, its main protagonist is the fictional Queen Sheherzade, whose stories are told to countless young girls from North Africa to South East Asia. The telling of the stories varies in each account but the Vazir's daughter retains the qualities of being erudite, amusing and ultimately more powerful and wise than the monarch himself. Beguiling him with the foibles of humankind long enough to generate understanding and love within the king, her mental faculties allowed Sheherzade not just to survive a night but live as a queen while sparing the lives of other women in the monarchy.

The Queen has been a polarizing figure for many women who have grown up with her, some berating her for failing to challenge patriarchal mores while others have a keener understanding of the nature of her subversions. Lebanese author Hanan al-Shaykh penned a re-telling of the ancient classic, described her encounter with Sheherzade in the text - "I fell in love with her because I thought she was the first feminist. Second, because she was a philosopher, an artist, a writer, and she was trying through literature to humanize the king and men around her." 

It is with this impetus that Sheherzade's Gift examines the work of women artists from Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh who reside in the US. Their lived experiences vary from being recent immigrants to being second generation Americans. Brought together by membership in the diaspora, the work of these artists speaks from specific and individual references. Through painting, sculpture, drawings, installation and video, these artists tell stories that seamlessly traverse continents, languages and aesthetics. 

Jaishri Abichandani (born India) is an artist and independent curator. She received her MFA from Goldsmiths College, University of London and has continued to intertwine art and activism in her career, founding the South Asian Women's Creative Collective from 1997 to 2013. She has exhibited her work internationally at various venues including P.S.1/MOMA, the IVAM in Valencia, Spain and the House of World Cultures in Berlin, Germany. Solo exhibitions include the Queens Museum, Rossi and Rossi in London, and Gallery Chemould in Mumbai. Abichandani served as the Director of Public Events and Projects from 2003 to 2006 at the Queens Museum where she co- curated Fatal Love: South Asian American Art Now, Queens International 2006 Everything All at Once and Her Stories: Fifteen Years of SAWCC. Abichandani is currently an Artist-in-Residence at Governor's Island through LMCC's Process Space program.