In 2019, the Committee on Art in Public Places, at the behest of Cynthia Packert, Christian A. Johnson Professor of History of Art, enthusiastically pursued the acquisition of The Perennial Gaze by renowned contemporary artist Shahzia Sikander. This stunning mosaic, one of an edition of only four, was seen as a strong addition to the nearly thirty works of art in Middlebury’s increasingly diverse public art collection.
The work, which arrived at the College in the fall of 2019, was slated to be installed and inaugurated in the Winter Garden of the Axinn Center for the Humanities at Starr Library, near the center of campus, in the spring of 2020. However, due to the onset of the COVID pandemic the installation, as well as Sikander’s visit to campus, was postponed.
During the last week of April this year, after much planning—and almost exactly twenty years since the artist’s first visit to campus in conjunction with the Asia Society’s 2002 traveling exhibition, Conversations with Traditions—Middlebury was finally able to install The Perennial Gaze and to bring Sikander to campus to celebrate its inauguration. During her brief stay, the artist toured the museum where she viewed and discussed with students her photogravure, titled Naga, which was acquired by the museum in 2008. She also spent time critiquing student artwork, viewing manuscripts in Special Collections, meeting with student researchers, and dining with students, faculty, and staff. And of course, she gave a rich and expansive lecture to an overflow audience. For those who were unable to attend, a recording of her lecture is embedded below, or available directly on Vimeo.
Prior to leaving campus Sikander also produced an audio recording (embedded below, as well) in which she provides introductory context for The Perennial Gaze and reads a passage from Diving into the Wreck, a poem by Adrienne Rich.
This audio recording will also be accessible via QR code on the object label adjacent to the mosaic in the Axinn Winter Garden for those who wish to listen to the artist’s words while viewing the artwork in person.