Shahzia Sikander Sculpture Beheaded at the University of Houston

Shahzia Sikander Sculpture Beheaded at the University of Houston

A Shahzia Sikander statue at the University of Houston was vandalized following previous protests by right-wing groups.

The 18-foot-tall bronze monument to women and justice was beheaded in the early morning on July 8 while the campus was experiencing harsh weather and power outages due to Hurricane Beryl.

Footage of the vandalism was obtained by campus police, according to the New York Times, which first reported the news.

“We were disappointed to learn the statue was damaged early Monday morning as Hurricane Beryl was hitting Houston,” Kevin Quinn, the university’s executive director of media relations, said in an email to ARTnews. “The damage is believed to be intentional. The University of Houston Police Department is currently investigating the matter.”

The female figure, whose braided hair forms a pair of horns, wears a lacy collar in allusion to similar ones worn by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court justice.

The sculpture was installed in a plaza at the University of Houston after five months of display to critical acclaim at Madison Square Park in New York City. But when it traveled to Houston, it drew criticism from the anti-abortion Christian group Texas Right to Life, which called for a campus-wide protest “to keep the Satanic abortion idol out of Texas.” The University of Houston responded by cancelling a planned opening and artist talk, as well as choosing not to show an accompanying video work also by Sikander.

It’s worth noting that Sikander’s artist statement about the work contains no mention of Satanism. “The rams’ horns are universal symbols of strength and wisdom,” Sikander told Art in America earlier this year. “There is nothing Satanic about them.”

“The calls to remove this proud symbol of female autonomy unintentionally underscored the reason Sikander had created it in the first place,” Eleanor Heartney wrote in that profile of Sikander.

Sikander described the vandalism of Witness as “a very violent act of hate” and told the New York Times that it should be investigated as a crime.

In addition to exhibitions at museums around the world, Sikander has been the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant. A survey of her work is being held as a collateral event in tandem with this year’s Venice Biennale.

Quinn told ARTnews that conservators have been called in to advise on the necessary repairs to Witness, and taht the university had been in contact with Sikander about repairing the artwork “as quickly as possible.”

But Sikander has other plans. “I don’t want to ‘repair’ or conceal,” Sikander told the New York Times. “I want to ‘expose,’ leave it damaged. Make a new piece, and many more.”

Sikander did not respond to a request for comment from ARTnews.

The post “Shahzia Sikander Sculpture Beheaded at the University of Houston” by Karen K. Ho was published on 07/10/2024 by