Gurminder Sikand: Early Paintings

16 May-29 Jun 2024
PV 16 May 2024

Maximillian William
London W1W 8HJ


Maximillian William is proud to present the first posthumous exhibition in London of artist Gurminder Sikand. Following Sikand’s untimely death in 2021 aged 61, and her subsequent inclusion in significant surveys including Women in Revolt! at Tate Britain and RE/SISTERS at Barbican Art Gallery, this exhibition presents an in-depth view of Sikand’s early paintings from the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

Images of women drawn from Indian mythology recur throughout Sikand’s work. Her interest in the figure of the goddess – particularly the Hindu goddess Kali, who both destroys and creates the world anew, and is often pictured with a garland of human heads – is evident in her depictions of women metamorphosing into nature. In Sikand’s paintings, women are seeds buried in soil, hang on tree branches to provide shelter, or are even the earth and sky themselves. These amorphous relationships between the figure and nature were further inspired by the Chipko environmental movement, which began in north India during the 1970s, when villagers – mostly women – embraced trees at risk of deforestation, a protest that also highlighted their primary role as caregivers. Sikand’s female figures are often portrayed as strong: appearing resolute with multiple heads or acting as protectors over her landscapes. They also remain ambiguous and elusive, echoing the shapeshifting symbolism of Hindu allegories that persisted in her imagination. 

Sikand’s paintings contain multiple layers of gouache, watercolour and ink, often laboriously made. Her deep fascination with palimpsests – ancient parchments scraped clean and used again, that bear the traces of time – led her to experiment with breaking the surface of her paintings, likely using sandpaper and wire wool as she did in later works, and then repairing the paper in a technique similar to papier mâché. Sikand’s works function as pentimenti, where the marks of earlier paintings lie visible underneath the surface. In her acts of erasure and revision, she folded history into her work, gesturing to the unreliability of memory and the tension in the encounter between images from different cultures.


Gurminder Sikand: Early Paintings- press release