This work was featured in Shahzia Sikander’s first solo show on the West Coast in 1997— the same year she was selected to participate in the Whitney Biennial. Sikander’s red female figure occupies the center of the image and is echoed several times on a smaller scale with slight variations. The connotation of fertility with the exaggerated curves of the red female figure is heightened, as the figure also becomes a uterus connected to two blue circular ovaries. This imagery, combined with spherical forms traditionally used to reference astronomy, is a reference to cycles in general— the cycles of the body, of life, and of the planets. Floating in space, the central figure’s roots pass through a lotus flower—symbolic of a woman’s purity as it rises untainted from its origins in the mud. The lotus is also associated with Brahma and Lakshmi, the Hindu deities of potency and prosperity. The Islamic iconography of the veil, which shrouds the entire figure, is juxtaposed with these Hindu motifs, as well as Sikander’s overt reference to traditional miniature painting with her use of framing devices and her canonical depictions of Gopi women. Along with the veil, the Gopis— objects of desire lacking their own agency— speak to established gender hierarchies and power dynamics. As in her other work, Sikander takes these traditions and undermines them, starting with the format of miniature painting. Whereas traditionally, all action on the page must be contained within the frame, Sikander aggressively subverts this practice, as her figures break free of their boundary, spilling unconcernedly onto the page beyond. The central female figure, rooted in herself, is the titular apparatus of power. She is the center of the sun, the moon, and the planets, and the symbols of her womanhood—far from being features to be hidden out of shame— are openly celebrated. The veil’s association with oppression is challenged and transformed as the figure shines through its transparent folds and the veil itself seems to form wings to lift her up. The Gopis surround and attend to her; even Krishna pauses in his embrace to look upon her. Sustained by water from the anthropomorphic vessel on the right, and fire from the torch proffered by the Gopi on the left, she stands as an electric, pulsating source of life and power. You can imagine the Gopi floating inside her feeding on this energy and growing upward like the lotus below, through the mud of immutable tradition and toward a self-determined, more nuanced and flexible, identity.