Triptych: Tales from the folding chair
"Triptych: Tales from the folding chair" was inspired by Shirley Chisolm, first Black American woman to serve in Congress, who once said: "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair. The three portraits are of women of color who we don't often find in history books despite their powerful legacies. The first one on the right is Nur Jahan, co-leader of the Mughal empire with Jehangir, who fused the architectural legacy of the city of her birth, Esfahan, with the Indian subcontinent. Her father's tomb was the precursor to the Taj Mahal. For Shirley Chisolm, in the middle, I inscribed the saying: "be like the flower who remains fragrant to even the hand that crushes it." And the portrait on the left is Doria Shafik, Egyptian suffragist and feminist who fought colonialism under the British, and later repression under Nasser, to ultimately die in obscurity.
Gaslit by a thousand microbullets
“Gaslit by a thousand microbullets” was inspired by a photo of civil rights legend Gloria Richardson pushing away a bayonet at a protest she led in Maryland, in the 1960s. The look of exhaustion on her face is collective exhaustion. Her march for dignity, equity, and justice then, continues on today. I put a saint-like Byzantine style halo around her face because like so many other women of color, she was written out of history and it’s only as an adult, I stumbled upon her story. The fight to even insert women of color as protagonists in the policies that affect us, 25 years after the Beijing declaration, continues. It’s a long, exhausting road. Grateful to the Gloria Richardsons we will never know, who paved the way. The red flower dangling from her hand is an ode to Imam Ali’s proverb “be like the flower that remains fragrant, even to the hand that crushes it.”
"Justice" is in memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) and was painted the day after I learned of her passing.
For those who speak Arabic, the dissent collar is embedded with the word for no/ "laa" and the rays of the halo are made up of the word "adalah" or justice. Her approach to justice was holistic, intersectional, and rooted in equity. She is best known for her work advancing women's rights, but she was also a champion for racial justice, LGBTQ rights, and other equality issues.
The wings emanating on both sides of her represent a butterfly -- and in particular, the butterfly effect because her legacy will have an impact on future generations in ways we may never know. The nine stars orbiting her gold halo are for the day when we have nine women justices on the Supreme Court.
"May her memory be for blessing. May her memory be for revolution. May we become a credit to her name."
Rest in power, Justice Ginsburg
“Butterfly Effect” is the third painting in a series of portraits across generations: Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Richardson, and Breonna Taylor.
The scene is Cairo, July 2011, when my mom came to visit. We were visiting Tahrir on a Friday and she couldn’t find a place to pray. Given gender norms where men and women typically don’t pray side by side, I assumed we would have to leave. And then we saw three women casually place newspapers and flags on the ground, and my mom prayed next to them. These micro-revolutionary moments are what made the early days of the uprising so extraordinary.
The six gold circles on the wings of the butterfly represent the six bullets that entered Breonna Taylor’s body and were later exonerated. The date (six-six), June 6th, is the day Khaled Saeed was murdered by the police. Breonna Taylor and Khaled Saeed, hovering in the sky with the gold halos found in Persian miniatures, shared the same fate. Both catalyzing reckonings, unfinished and ongoing. The stylized gold poppies symbolize the dead immortalized now as martyrs, and the dangers of commodifying their stories and romanticizing resilience.
Be like the flower
"Be like the flower" -- the first four words of Imam Ali's saying: "Be like the flower that gives its fragrance to even the hand that crushes it."
It's a mantra I repeat in my head often, especially when leaning into the discomfort of difficult conversations -- balancing the need to speak up while trying to stay calm along the way. I chose the poppy because of its powerful symbolism -- red for death and peace for the sedative state brought about by opium.
The red, gold, and turquoise flecks taking flight from the flower illustrate the chipping away of socially constructed narratives. Whether it is debunking purity culture to justify Female Genital Mutilation or unlearning the myths that have upheld structural racism for so long. The shape of the flecks transform from dust-like particles to butterflies, symbolizing the butterfly effect -- and the power of conversations happening organically and in a decentralized way to shape the way we think and engage with others.
"Maid invisible" are a series of photos collages I made after serving in Jordan as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Because of my dark skin, many people in Jordan, Lebanon, and other labor-importing Arab states assumed I was a maid and I came to learn the term "srilankeeya" was a derogatory, racialized epithet. Foreign migrant women domestic workers are often invisible and they are particularly vulnerable to abuse given the sponsorship (kafala) system where employers can hold their passports restricting their mobility. The image on the left is a photo I took in Tripoli, Lebanon with an overlay of my feet dangling, almost like a rag doll ghost. I made this collage after learning of a domestic worker's death. She hung herself with a rope made of laundry from her employer's balcony in Beirut.