The Ignored Geniuses is a painting inspired by my love of bright colours, natural landscapes, and most importantly, my developing awareness of gender inequality in Western art history. Recently, my mother, Masooma Dairywala, has been bringing me pretty ribbons, lace flowers and other decorative items she finds beautiful. Although these items are meant to decorate clothes, she thinks that they belong in my paintings more. Ever since I started painting landscapes, an art form she approves of, her appreciation of my work has become even higher than her appreciation of colourful fabrics, glass paintings and henna application. Naturally, when objects are being valued, the ones that we depend on to survive, such as food and shelter, are the ones that are the most precious to us. But besides these items, I have come to realize that there is a hierarchy through which the value of an object is defined by most people outside the art world: realistic and beautiful objects are the most admired, useful ones come next, and the philosophical and experimental ones come last. This means that within art and craft, whichever is thought to be more beautiful becomes more important – my mother’s sudden change of heart about art, which she found mostly useless and confusing prior to my landscape paintings, is exemplary of this. Within the art world though, this hierarchy is always shifting and there is a bit more freedom. Yet, this freedom does not extend to accepting craft as an art form. The Ignored Geniuses has been created to challenge the art world for its exclusion of crafts as an art form.
Although the number of women artists is growing in the current artistic society, their work is still a minority in major galleries’ selections, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, and despite celebrating craft, places like Harbourfront still distinguish craft and design from visual arts. Since craft, particularly domestic craft, has always been associated with women, I find gender inequality between men and women artists directly linked to the large debates that presently surround the validity of textile artists, who are still predominantly female.
In this work, I have juxtaposed store-bought fabric with delicate ‘feminine’ patterns against a landscape oil painting, an art form that has historically been associated with powerful patriarchal institutions such as museums and galleries, as well as to ideas of the ‘fine’ artistic male genius. It took many trials in which I worked on fabrics with different patterns in various ways (colour pencils, fabric paint, markers, wood mounting, etc.) before I was able to create this painting successfully. I finally ended up with white fabric, which is supposed to mimic the colour of gessoed canvas, a sublime mountain painting, which despite its serious subject matter, adopts the unnatural shades of bright fabric dyes, and ‘girly’ fluorescent pink circles, which perform the dual tasks of marking the fabric’s pattern and interrupting the painting. While the fabric has been stretched over the frame and is no longer utilitarian, the painting is interrupted so that the pattern of the fabric shows through, disabling its ability to lead viewers into another world. With the fabric and the paint at the same level, unable to play the roles most associated with them, the piece can no longer fit one category and hangs in limbo, unclassifiable and confusing. By equalizing the value of these materials, I hope to subvert this idea of ‘genius’ as only being a masculine attribute associated with fine arts, and extend this term to the female artists who have not been memorialized in history. With this hybrid of symbolic imagery, high class and low class, women and men, beauty and intellect, and art and craft can no longer be binaries with clear-cut boundaries. In fact, with the existence of institutions such as the Textile Museum of Canada, as well as OCAD University’s Material Art and Design program, a positive change in our culture is already becoming apparent. Like much of my previous work, this painting is a vision of this change – of this new, accepting, and slowly transforming world.
In addition to promoting craft as an art form, a sub-theme I want to explore with this painting is of the art world turning away from traditional landscape paintings. Why can’t art be decorative and intellectual? Why don’t we acknowledge the intellect required to create aesthetically pleasing images? This painting is combining two different standards of beauty and decoration to offer a social critique. By showing the power of mediums and images combined to be more than what they are on their own, I am hoping to promote acceptance and respect for more than one kind of art making. You may read more about my inspirations here: Overcoming the Canadian Wilderness.