Following its first season, the reality show “The Exhibit: Finding the Next Great Artist” awarded one lucky contestant the grand prize: Baseera Khan, a New York-based performance, sculpture and installation artist. In addition to $100,000, Khan won the chance to exhibit their work at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is producing the show along with the Smithsonian Channel and MTV.
Today, Khan’s prize-winning sculpture, titled The Liberator, goes on view at the museum, which will also host an artist lecture and conversation with the artist on May 25.
The Liberator is a 3D-printed acrylic bust made from digitally manipulated scans of Khan’s body. The piece is also a response to a sculpture called Naro Dakini, an 18th-century depiction of a Buddhist deity, which is housed in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art.
Khan views the Dakini as “a woman entrusted to liberate other women,” according to a statement from the Hirshhorn. In The Liberator, Khan “manipulated the figure, slicing through at the body’s chakras—the traditional ayurvedic energy centers—to convey the physical, mental and spiritual difficulties that accompany liberation and feminine power.”
“Baseera Khan’s The Liberator poignantly depicts a human struggle that could not be more relevant today,” says Melissa Chiu, the Hirshhorn’s director and the show’s lead judge, in the museum’s statement. “The perspectives of artists like Baseera Khan show in-person visitors and national television audiences why artists are fundamental to society.”
The Liberator also builds on Khan’s previous work. In 2021, they staged a solo show at the Brooklyn Museum, called “I Am an Archive,” which featured a similar sculpture of Khan’s contorted body.
“I had thought through a series of works, one of which I had completed for the Brooklyn Museum show, so I was able to piggyback off some of those ideas and make the brand new work,” they tell Min Chen of Artnet.
Khan was one of seven artists competing on “The Exhibit,” which aired its final episode in early April. The group included sculptor and designer Misha Kahn, printmaker Jamaal Barber, multimedia artist Frank Buffalo Hyde, painter Clare Kambhu, painter Jennifer Warren and sculptor Jillian Mayer.
“There’s no competition here. There’s more of a dialogue. So that’s what it ended up being. We all made what we made,” Khan told Smithsonian magazine’s Roger Catlin prior to the show’s premiere. “We just all had some fun.”
Khan, who has already spent their prize money on a five-year studio lease, tells Artnet that the show “opened up a portal for artists to have more agency.”
While Khan was the ultimate victor, Chiu lauds all of the show’s contestants, who created pieces themed around topics like justice, gender, the pandemic and social media over the show’s six episodes.
“It was a privilege,” she says in the statement, “to engage with seven rising artists throughout ‘The Exhibit’ as they responded to prompts related to Hirshhorn’s permanent collection, shared their art-making processes on camera and developed lasting camaraderie.”
Khan’s winning sculpture will be on view at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. from May 4 to July 16.