History Historical Badasses

Gertrude Stein, the queer feminist at the centre of the art movement

I first encountered Gertrude Stein through her avant-garde poetry in Tender Buttons, an evocative series of short poems that forced writing to its breaking point with sentences like: “Dirty is yellow. A sign of more is not mentioned.” I met her blindly, only through her words, yet I already fell for her eccentricity. I knew there was something wonderful behind the mind that put down on paper the bold tongue-in-cheek yet unbelievably serious statement, “A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”. I just had to explore her art further. So I began scouring old journals and artist profiles to learn more about her. 

Little did I know that the radical art Stein created could almost be rivaled by the art that she nurtured in the artists around her. I found multiple sources that called her the ‘mother’ of modernism, but after getting to know more about her, I am sure that she would scoff at such a title. After all, she left the United States in 1903 to flee the pressures of gender norms. She was also bored with medical school and seeking an outlet to express her eccentric point of view, she settled down in Paris, where she intended to pursue a life free from heteronormativity. She opened a salon in her home for the world’s creative mind, including some of the world-renowned names such as Picasso, Matisse, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. She was the voice of this ‘Lost Generation, the group of American expatriates flocking to Paris– and even coined the term.

The way I see it, she brought together these esteemed artists and in many ways, elevated them through her no-nonsense critique of their work. I had always internalized that a woman inspiring other artists (typically male artists) was a muse. That term is loaded, as there were often sexualized or romanticized elements typically tied to a muse. Instead, what I admired about Stein was that she was a mentor to the ‘greats’. I see her as a woman that had an undeniable presence in her time, respected by those around her. 

Nothing about her was conventional and she embraced her own strangeness, something that drew me to her further. Stein deserves the title of a trailblazer of the modernist period and of queer identity at the time. Stein’s essay Miss Furr and Miss Skeene were among the first story to be published about homosexual revelation, containing the first noted use of the word “gay” in published works to refer to same-sex relationships. She also hosted one of the first avant-garde exhibitions in the United States, funding it with the money she collected from her art dealerships. I have no doubt that every piece of art in the period has her fingerprint.

And she didn’t hesitate to acknowledge her accomplishments either. Stein didn’t believe that women must be modest, proudly proclaiming “I have been the creative literary mind of the century.” She never sold herself short, a habit I found myself doing as I presented my own poetry or other writing. I was still working with my own feelings of inferiority, belittling my stories as ‘just’ relevant to female-identifying communities. While she wrote about women and her partner, she didn’t restrict herself to writing women’s stories. I found it so refreshing to see her unabashed pride, as it reminded me to take hold of my own achievements and to be confident. No matter how unconventionally and ‘weirdly’ I experimented with my creativity, I learned that I could (and should) still demand to be taken seriously. 

Regardless of all this, I don’t think she should be idolized. I often like to give powerful women in difficult situations the benefit of the doubt, as do most of the historians and writers that grapple with creating a retrospective of Stein’s life. I witnessed a trend in the way that they wrote about her, that she was ensuring her safety as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France by making these questionable alliances with Nazi figures. As much as I respect her as a feminist and as the backbone of the Lost Generation of artists, I cannot excuse her political affiliations and ironic, confusing pro-Nazi expressions. 

At the end of it all, Stein didn’t strive to be accepted or allow herself to be molded by the society around her. She carved her own place into history and I believe it is important to commemorate it, lest she is lost in the shadows of her male counterparts. As a woman in the art world, looking at Stein as an example liberates me and allows me to embrace subversive expressions of creativity. 

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How absurdism taught me to embrace the chaos in my life

“A little boy in a cowboy suit, writing in a puddle with a stick, a dog approaching. Deaf or dumb, the boy is, like anyone, a little timid, partly stupid, ashamed, afraid, like us, like you. He is there. Picture the boy. See his eyes. Sympathize with his little closes. Now, break his arm. Picture violin section. The violins are on fire. (The following is said almost without anger as if it’s just another request) Now go fuck yourselves.”
Thom Pain (Based on Nothing), Will Eno.

That’s a little absurdism for you there. The next few lines go into the character trying to sound like he’s fine, but he really isn’t. He is spiraling while trying to understand the colloquial term ‘whatever’ because he thinks it will describe how he wants to feel. Did you get that? I hope so. Because underneath the strangeness is a deep vulnerability– and joy in being alive. 

It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless.

At its core, absurdism is rooted in social activism and rebellion against the norm. At a time when everyone was taking art very seriously and enforcing standards on artist’s practices, absurdists challenged the system. They said, what if we make an art form that defies expectations by being intentionally bizarre? When everything around us is so devoid of reason, embracing irrationality and strangeness may be the next best thing. 

With the current pandemic, there is little that we can control. At first, I felt so powerless against it all. That’s when I turned to absurdism. It doesn’t want to have a purpose, it embraces being purposeless. The Dadaist slogan of “art for art’s sake” and absurdism’s love of nonsense is exactly the type of energy we need to be bringing into our lifestyles. 

Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time). I spent most of my life, as I expect a majority of you did, trying to assign value to myself by the things that I achieved and the decisions I made. Wanting my life to mean something, I quickly grew desperate when things did not turn out as I imagined.

Absurdism taught me to embrace chaos and life not making sense (most of the time).

Take, for instance, applying to jobs or sharing creative work. There is a powerlessness that I feel every single time. I can’t help but think that I am putting myself out there to be judged– which I am, to a certain extent. Recently, after being ghosted by a couple of jobs I had applied to, I was starting to fear that the rest of the year would be the same. All my efforts seemed to be in vain. Keen to maintain a certain image I had of my life, I started reaching out to places that I had no interest in. But I soon became so thankful that things turned out the way they did when a professor reached out to me, excited to have me on board to work on her screenplay– something I deeply enjoyed doing.

Like that last line by Will Eno, I often forgot that life was full of surprises. I learned to be okay with it. More than that, to be happy.

By reading absurdist writers, I embraced the joy of being surprised. I found humor in unexpected things. There was a strength in accepting chaos that I did not find anywhere else. When it seems like the year is going entirely on its own path, I cling to these teachings more than ever. We can’t be stubborn and try to force the year to go in the direction we want it to. We are doing more damage by pulling on the leash and digging our feet into the ground then if we let loose a little and see where the year is headed. 

All in all, when things don’t work out, whether it is with your school, career, or relationship prospects, remind yourself that having ‘nothing’ going on shouldn’t be terrible. Just take Daniil Kharm’s The Red-Haired Man, where at the end he admits that he is writing nonsense and gives up entirely. This poem has gotten me out of all types of ruts, both creative and personal.

We can all take a note from absurdism. If we embrace chaos in this way, we can enhance our own sense of wellbeing.

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Life Hacks Mind Career Life Stories Career Advice Now + Beyond

What happens when you’re a creative without a creative space?

Since I was a little girl, I’ve been a creator – molding clay into tiny people, building houses out of cardboard, stitching scraps of cloth together.

It’s been such a big part of who I am that some days, I forget that I have the power to create even though I’m still doing it. And sometimes, finding that power comes with finding a creative space.

I write but it somehow seems so normative, I draw and it feels average. That fire – that feeling or realizing that you are creating something out of nothing is exceptional – and that’s the feeling you need to always connect with.

I carry my creativity with me wherever I go. As a teenager, I suppressed it because my school didn’t care much for those who thought outside the box. I was almost afraid of it, afraid of claiming the title of artist in a world that didn’t seem to have the patience or creative space for art.

Then, I lived in Rome for four years – four years of history, art, and literature coming together, pulsing through the city.

Everywhere I went, there were artists and art. Everyone was staking a claim in the metropolis mess of the city of the past. Taking cover to paint on a lone bridge in the city, singing in the middle of a crowded piazza, and drawing at the modern art museum.

Trapped in the crevice of Trastevere, there were open mic nights every Wednesday night, space where all kinds of writers, artists, creators came together and read or played their sounds of music – there is always a creative space for artists in Rome.

And god, I belonged. There is no one that wouldn’t belong there. That’s the true power of art.

Now, it’s been three years since I’ve moved back home to Karachi. The artist community here is growing. There’s been a revival coming and you can feel the city come alive with shows, readings, and crafts, but getting your foot into that door is not an easy task.

It’s not enough to just show up and say, “okay, I’m here, I’m an artist, and I’m ready to be a part of this movement”.

Here, everything comes down to the clique game. I go to open mics, and yet somehow I feel like poetry loses against the strumming of guitars, beatboxing, and comedy.

No one likes sad poetry.

People want fun. And laughter. And hope. Confetti dancing in the open air.

The thought that art, sometimes, has to be geared towards the sole purpose of entertainment frustrates me. More so because I know it takes a lot more to sit down and read a story, as opposed to listening to a song or immersing yourself into a piece of art. It’s a commitment, one that most people aren’t ready to take. It’s not like I’m writing mainly for other people, I always, always write for myself before anything but the idea that the work you put into the world may not have the value you hoped for… that’s what we need to work on.

I always hear about poetry nights and open mics just for writers, so I know they’re happening. I myself have hosted some as well but the problem is deeper than that. The problem is that you can’t just walk out your door and find a place to share your work. Karachi isn’t like a lot of cities, it requires effort to find the things you want to do, and sometimes, after a long day of work, you don’t really want to make that effort. And what ends up happening is that your writing takes a back seat.

You become complacent. You forget that writing is a craft that needs constant work and care and nurturing.

So, for myself, I’ve decided to take some time off and really focus on my work, community or not. At the end of the day, being a writer is lonely and it’s a journey that you gotta take on your own.

So find that room of your own, claim it, and create some beauty with your words.

Books Pop Culture Interviews

This Pakistani writer illustrated a book in homage to female Pakistani role models

Pakistan for Women is a collection of illustrated stories of 50 amazing and inspiring Pakistani women from all walks of life. The book features influential women who are firefighters, singers, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists – women who have climbed literal and figurative mountains.

It is the first Pakistan-centric collection of its kind geared to inspire girls and women alike to not only learn about the wonderful women Pakistan has produced, but to take inspiration and motivation from them and know that they too can achieve great things. 

The writer and illustrator behind Pakistan for Women is 23-year-old, Pakistani Maliha Abidi who is currently studying medical neuroscience at the University of Sussex in England. Outside of her interest in science is also a passion for making amazing artwork at home.

Being a Pakistani woman and an artist who focuses on women empowerment, over time she has built up an audience through her social media who know and love her work. She decided to do a series on Pakistani women who have accomplishments that need to be celebrated, to showcase pride in her heritage and her country.

“It was like a light bulb moment. I wanted to combine my passion for art, writing, and celebrating women, and just bring it in to one book, and that’s how the idea of the book Pakistan for Women came into existence,” said Maliha whose aim has been to put together a book that not only inspires but teaches children too.

When she first started making a list of names for her series, she thought she’d have a maximum of 25, but the list kept growing until it reached almost 80 women. She then realized it had to be more than just a series of artwork.

She started illustrating the most well known names first, like singer Abidah Parveen and the political figure Fatima Jinnah, the women that people commonly already know of. Then, she moved on to some of the lesser known figures such as the firefighter, Shazia Parveen, and Nargis Malvala, the Pakistan-American astrophysicist. 

A collage of six illustrations of Pakistani women featured in "Pakistan for Women", showing Samina Baig, Noor Jehan, Asma Jahangir, Zenith Irfan, Noreena Shams, and Abidah Parveen.
[Image description: A collage of six illustrations of Pakistani women featured in “Pakistan for Women”, showing Samina Baig, Noor Jehan, Asma Jahangir, Zenith Irfan, Noreena Shams, and Abidah Parveen.] Via @pakistanforwomen on Instagram
“There were moments where I felt very overwhelmed, because when you’re writing about such incredible women. it’s like a responsibility. You need to tell their origin story in the right way, to do justice to their stories. You cannot just illustrate them and write about them,” she explained, recalling instances where she had to illustrate a profile more than once like Abidah Parveen’s which entailed four reworks.

At times like these, my father and husband kept me sane,” she added, crediting them as her rocks throughout the whole process. They not only gave her the encouragement she needed but also gave her honest constructive criticism instead of just hollow encouragements.

In Desi culture, there are many people who stop girls from doing something because they are girls or want them to become someone else just so they can get married.

Maliha wants people – largely women in Pakistan and those outside as well to showcase a positive side of the country – to read these stories and realize that if given the chance or the resources, women can make, not just their lives, but the lives of millions around them better as well.

“I would like everyone reading this book to feel inspired because these women come from a country where a lot of people think that women don’t have a lot of rights, and women are supposed to be oppressed,” explained Maliha.

“That is the reality in many parts of Pakistan, I will not deny that, but at the same time there are amazing stories of women who rose above everything and broke glass ceilings.

“The message is about connecting to your heritage and being proud because most of the time it’s easy to take your home country for granted. But if we keep a positive reminder in front of us then we can criticize it in a healthy way in order for us to be better while also appreciating it,” she added.

Maliha also believes that this book will be a good influence for the female population of Pakistan and has already “gotten so many messages from people saying ‘reading this book has changed my perception of Pakistan and how I see Pakistani women.’ And I think that’s an incredible feeling. I honestly feel so proud every time I read such messages,” she said.

“At times women may think they’re not capable of doing something just because they’re women. There’s so much social and societal pressure as well, so I do not doubt that for a second that they will be able to see themselves as powerful just because there are other women who are so powerful within Pakistan,” she added.

“Dear women,” wrote Maliha in Pakistan for Women, “please know you are amazing, you are fearless, you are incredible, you are unbeatable. Being a woman is your biggest strength.”

Pakistan for Women is available for purchase on Amazon UK.

Pssst… have you heard of our reading challenge? We’re also on Goodreads – come say hello!


Understanding labor of love through the life of Maryam Mirzakhani

“Life is not fair. I was born in a loving family. I was born with a smart head and had good people around me. I didn’t complain about how fair it is. Many people in this world don’t have these things. Why should I complain now?”

These are the words of the renowned mathematician, Maryam Mirzakhani, who passed away at the young age of 40 of recurrent cancer. Maryam is the first and the only woman mathematician, to have won the Fields Medal, considered an equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

The Fields Medal is awarded every four years, to persons who have made distinguished contributions to Mathematics. Maryam was honored for her groundbreaking work in studying the dynamics and geometries of curved surfaces. Born and raised in Tehran, Iran; Maryam showed exceptional brilliance in the subject during her middle school years, going on to complete a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

In terms of her achievements and her caliber as a mathematician, her life is nothing but exemplary. However, the more I read about Maryam, the more I see her as an artist, who simply loved what she did. To me, Maryam’s life is the definition of the labor of love, a quality that every creator must possess in order to produce the best work possible.

Through her values, she metamorphosed the idea of leading life with passion, becoming an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Maryam showed the world the value of enjoying the process. In her own words, she described herself as a “slow thinker”, who had the patience and the optimism to tackle the most challenging issues of theoretical mathematics.

Like a dreamer, she doodled over large white charts laid out onto the floor, scribbling formulae on the margins of her mathematical drawings.

The chart acted as her canvas and her ‘painting’ represented the beauty that she saw in solving a complex and time-consuming problem. Her drawings gave her a window to the possibilities that the geometric complexities represented, and with it the drive to find answers through them.

Another aspect of Maryam was her remarkable quality of being optimistically ambitious. She was undeterred in the face of tough mathematical problems, and found answers not just through sheer grit but also uncomplicated hope.

Her colleague, Alex Eskin, remembers, “She is very optimistic, and that’s infectious. When you work with her, you feel you have a much better chance of solving problems that at first seem hopeless.”

However, most importantly, Maryam held the simplest values in the highest regard as her way of life. She valued her family and her work, without caring much for distractions.

Her husband, Jan Vondrák reminisced this quality of hers, stating, “She didn’t worry about what people said. People criticized her. She really didn’t care. She knew what she wanted to do.”

Like a dreamer, she doodled over large white charts laid out onto the floor, scribbling formulae on the margins of her mathematical drawings.

Maryam’s fortitude and strong character were the reasons she continued working despite suffering from critical illness in her last years. She did not have answers when she began, but she had the uncompromising belief that she would figure them out eventually.

And that is the kind of force that can move mountains. As I discover more about Maryam, I believe that each one of us driven by a passion, can derive hope and strength from her life, and forge our way ahead.

Just the way Maryam did.

Tech Now + Beyond

5 amazing artists who are using technology in their work

Two challenging fields to make it in as a gender minority? Tech and the arts. Tech culture is infamously toxic towards women, as shown by the brave women who spoke up about their working conditions as #MeToo gained momentum. Womens’ artwork is also consistently undervalued in the art world and underrepresented in major institutions. Despite these barriers, there are many female artists incorporating technology to create interesting and innovative work.

Here are five of them:

Cristina Molina

Photo from artist Cristina Molina's website [image description: mirrored crystalline orbs hang with small video screens hang from the ceiling of a gallery]
Photo from artist Cristina Molina’s website [image description: mirrored crystalline orbs hang with small video screens hang from the ceiling of a gallery]
Cristina Molina is a video artist whose work often centers around female protagonists. Per her description, “Crystal Video is an interactive audio-visual installation that transmits sounds directly into participants heads. The video is shown in crystalline shapes hanging from the ceiling. However, the audio can only be heard when audience members bite down on a lollipop. The sound travels from the crystal base on the lollipop to the jaw and into the ear. The effect makes the transmission private, as if the figure in the video, inspired by Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse, is telepathically communicating.

More projects and information can be found on the artist’s website.  

Emily Hermant 

Image from artist Emily Hermant's website [image description: screenshot of website with the prompt "Please change a word or two of this lie: I am serious about veganism, really." and the input "I am seriously a vulture, really"]
Image from artist Emily Hermant’s website [image description: screenshot of the website with the prompt “Please change a word or two of this lie: I am serious about veganism, really.” and the input “I am seriously a vulture, really”]
Emily Hermant is a sculptor and fiber artist whose work often explores women’s labor. Her project Lies, lies, lies… “explored acts of deception in communication,” and featured embroidered lies mounted on the walls, a lie booth, and an interactive website. The website allowed people to input their own lies and edit other people’s lies, creating a “Virtual community of lies and liars.”

One of her other bodies of work Hesitations illustrated vocal pauses such as “um” from recordings of intimate conversations, thus going from human to data to human again.

You can check out more of her work here, or read an interview here.

Aarati Akkapeddi

GIF from artist Aarati Akkapeddi's website [image description: rapid animation of various search engine queries on colorful backgrounds]
GIF from artist Aarati Akkapeddi’s website [image description: rapid animation of various search engine queries on colorful backgrounds]
Aarati Akkapeddi is a “transdisciplinary artist and creative programmer,” who explores the relationship between data and identities and histories. Part of her work, You Are What You Search, is a  “poetic visualizer” tool that allows users to view and meditate on their search histories, which are usually difficult to decipher after downloading. Another aspect of YAWYS is chrome extension apps called Autosurfers that breaks filter bubbles by randomly searching, thus introducing users to new things and obscuring users’ search history.  

You can download the apps and learn about more of Aarati’s work here.

AnnieLaurie Erickson

Image from artist AnnieLaurie Erickson's website [image description: 3 images- the first of a dark video screen in a dark room, the second a close up of a screen that is mostly black except for on circle of image showing cords from a server, the third of a squiggly trail of circles like in the last image.]
Image from artist AnnieLaurie Erickson’s website [image description: 3 images- the first of a dark video screen in a dark room, the second a close up of a screen that is mostly black except for one circle of image showing cords from a server, the third of a squiggly trail of circles like in the last image.]
AnnieLaurie Erickson is a lens-based artist whose work often centers on making the invisible visible. Her project Data Shadows examines “the physical apparatus of the Internet and digital surveillance,” through photographs and interactive media. The interactive component uses eye-tracking technology to illuminate small sections of a photograph visible on a screen as the viewer’s eye moves around. The path of their gaze is projected onto a wall behind the viewer for onlookers to see.

Documentation of this series and others are on AnnieLaurie’s website.

Ayoka Chenzira

Image from HERadventure website [image description: two women wearing all black and sunglasses staring directly at the camera.]
Image from HERadventure website [image description: two women wearing all black and sunglasses staring directly at the camera with text underneath identifying them as Ayoka Chenzire (Ayo) and HaJ]
Ayoka Chenzira is a filmmaker and pioneer in Black independent cinema. She created the interactive film HERadventure with her daughter HaJ, about an extraterrestrial superhero named Her. During the movie, viewers are able to join Her in her battle against Dark Forces, aiming to empower women and girls through gameplay.

You can check our HERadventure here or learn more about Ayoka and her numerous other projects here.

Though contemporary art is often mocked for its seemingly limitless definition (“How is that art?” “A five-year-old could do that!” etc) these women and many more are using that limitlessness to their advantage by forging into new territory. As Georgia O’Keeffe said, “To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.”

Tech Now + Beyond

Sharing my art online changed everything for me

Art is constantly changing. In the same way that it evolves, so do the platforms we use to project it into the world.

One of the most amazing things about being alive right now is the ability to share anything you want, or anything you create, by simply choosing where to post it.

While these technologies grew over recent years, job opportunities grew as well. People went from not being able to make a living to finding opportunities in small-scale digital media. From video editors to make-up artists to dancers, a newly rapid influx of content demanded these types of artists. And now because of this, these types of artists are finding fulfillment while still bringing in a paycheck.

I’ll be honest, for me personally, the dream of success through art felt foolish and unattainable when I was young. It was hard enough trying to be a budding artist. But braving auditions and competitions with anxiety piling on top of it all was even harder. I remember making firm goals in my youth but shying away from opportunities out of fear. My writing, my music, and everything else that I created was for myself, and no one else. Sharing was just too hard when you had to see the reactions on people’s faces.

I found small communities online as I got older. Unexpected places like Tumblr gave me a safe outlet from which to jumpstart my artistic motivation. I found myself in a constant state of creation. I would give writing advice to my peers and answer questions about my music. I was able to make small connections and help others find their own tiny victories. After a while, I started finding those tiny victories of my own.

It felt like something finally clicked, after all of those years of not knowing how to share what I make. That environment of constant feedback framed a perspective for me that still affects how I create.

Because we exchange content differently now than we did even ten years ago, mixing concepts, genres, and types of art forms to find what speaks true to you is more common than ever. And without the constraints of geography and travel, simply using the right tags can help connect artists to their target audience, no matter how far away they might be.

Even the simple, and often painful, act of networking is more accessible. Between LinkedIn, remote positions, and connections with creators who already have a digital presence, it isn’t so hard to track down opportunities. This especially makes finding these opportunities easier for disabled or chronically ill artists, like myself.

I feel like the industry I was meant to work in didn’t exactly exist when I was growing up. I look around now and see more chances to create and inspire rather than more challenges. By simply being alive right now, I’ve gotten to share art and build relationships with other artists in ways I would never have imagined. I’m able to supplement my income and build on my dreams.

Am I currently able to support myself completely by creating art? No. But I get the feeling that someday very soon, I will.

Movies BRB Gone Viral Pop Culture Interviews

Meet the artist bringing brown girl power to beloved pop culture icons everywhere

This artist is fueling the internet with brown girl power, pop culture and

Anu Chouhan’s hilarious, well-observed comics and beautiful images of reimagined pop culture icons have won her a huge, loyal following and it’s not hard to see why.  Her work tackles the issue brown under-representation in pop culture head-on, reimagining icons like Sailor Moon, Wonder Woman and Zelda as women of color.  The Tempest spoke to her about the motivation behind her wonderful work and being independently artistic in a fiercely competitive environment.

The Tempest: Your art combines brown girl power + pop culture in quite an effortless manner. How important is the need for brown representation in art and culture to you, in the present context?

Anu Chouhan: I feel like we have definitely come along way from even five years ago, but there definitely needs to be more brown representation in pop culture. Our culture is multi-faceted so we need different kinds of South Asians out there doing awesome creative work.

 In this fiercely competitive society, where the focus is on the technical and commercial jobs as the preferred occupations – what kind of difficulties have you faced pursuing your passion and creativity as a career?

I’m fortunate to be working as a game artist as my day job. It’s an industry I love, but it was definitely not easy to get there. Creative industries are incredibly competitive and do require a lot of hard work and dedication to pursue, but it’s well worth it if you’re willing to give it your all. I would love to see more South Asians working in this field, particularly South Asian women!

That said, the work that I have been sharing on my page, Anumation has given me some awesome opportunities. In the beginning, I wasn’t sure anyone would dig my South Asian-focused work…It was almost a full year before I hit 1000 followers and got recognition from other bloggers, despite the fact that I had been posting pretty regularly. But I didn’t give up because the art I was posting was an expression of my personal interests, I could only hope that some people out there would appreciate it for what it was. I also think that first year of posting my art online was an important time for me to try different things and determine the route I wanted to take with my art. It’s been very hard to balance my job and my labor of love, but I’m proud of how far I have been able to take it. I’m honored that so many people have found my page and can relate to some of my content. I am excited to see how far I can push my personal work! Working with major brands who value my style would be a dream come true. 

To what extent is your art based on your personal experiences?

  A lot of my work is based on observations I have made growing up as an Indo-Canadian, but also from things my friends and family members have experienced. I also try to challenge our societal norms and cultural expectations through my work, based on my own beliefs. 

Do you think the internet can be a safe space for brown artists, especially women?

It is a bit of a double-edged sword…the internet, namely social media, is what has allowed so many of us creatives to put our work out there and gain recognition, but of course, there will always be very ignorant people out there who have nothing positive or progressive to say. But honestly, you’re not creating for those people…you’re creating art for yourself and the people who follow you can either appreciate your craft and support you or move on. I like to follow other WOC artists and keep an especially close eye on my fellow South Asian artists so we can all build each other up and offer support. Competition and comparisons are pointless and unhealthy. The more South Asian artists there are getting recognition online, the merrier.

As an outspoken woman of color who expresses her values on the internet through art, do you deal with slander and/or critique? If you do, how do you handle it?

 This is thankfully something I don’t have to deal with on an ongoing basis, however, in the latter half of 2017, I noticed I had received some negative comments on some of my more popular posts. In each instance, the comments were simply hateful and troll-ish, which made it clear to me that these people were just being haters and refusing to understand the underlying message of my work. At first, I was very tempted to defend my art and the message behind it, but I soon realized there is no point, commenters like that usually just want to get a reaction out of you. So now, I simply don’t bother and focus on positivity and constructive feedback when I ask for it. There are better things I can be thinking about!

Last but definitely not the least, you’ve bravely trodden upon the topic of South Asian women embracing their sexuality (through your art), and considering what a taboo that is in SA societies, how has the whole process been?

It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve always been pretty shy about approaching the topic, and some of that had to do with it being taboo but also with feeling insecure and having low self-confidence in the past (because so many of us are taught to be ashamed about showing our bodies, etc). I’m glad I got over these feelings over the years, but I think our society still has a long way to go, hopefully, my art is able to help start some productive conversations.

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Love Life Stories

My brother and I used to bond over our love of art – until this happened

I discovered my passion for art when I was only four. Usually all I had to work with was a pencil and blank pages from my older sister and cousins’ used exercise books. Sometimes used papers and past year exams papers were useful too, as long as there was enough space for me to doodle any image in my mind. I had no colored pencils, crayons, or watercolors to paint and draw back then, but it didn’t dim my enthusiasm to create something from my imagination. Not even a bit.

From drawing simple objects like house, trees, and animals, I slowly but surely mastered some skills in realistic drawings. I was persistent in polishing my artistry even with limited art supplies. I taught myself everything, from line drawing to lifelike picture without any help from anyone or even taking an art class.

In my family, I wasn’t the only one with interest in the arts.

My brother was passionate about art too, but he only found it out when he was sixteen after he enrolled in a fine art class. His sphere of interest was wider than mine. While I mostly sketch on papers, playing with graphite and charcoals, he sculpts and carves his imagination into figures as well.

Instead of pursuing my dream of being an artist, I went to business school, just to fulfill my parents’ wish. But he somehow managed to slash his way through their orders and expectations and high hopes. He went to college and picked Fine Arts as his major.

There was one thing I admired about him – his courage in following his dream.

At first, I thought we could still bond over our shared passion for art, sharing knowledge and perhaps helping each other out when we ran out of ideas. But it never happens anymore. Not since he went to art school.

Two years ago, I remember showing him a portrait of Luke Evans I’d sketched. It was one of my finest pieces so far and I was really proud. I expected him to be at least a little impressed, even just a tiny bit.

I could see a flash of surprise on his face, but it wasn’t a pleasant one.

He began to point out every mistake I made. The shades and hue weren’t perfect, the pencil’s stroke wasn’t done correctly and my techniques were all wrong.

I was a little bit hurt by his comment but convinced myself to take it as a constructive criticism. But I couldn’t help but wonder: does it matter if everything I create turns out good?

The next day, he made his own sketch, a portrait of a girl. A perfect piece of art, done with all the right techniques.

Whenever my mother and other siblings complimented my art, he didn’t say a thing, unless if they asked for his opinions, and then his answer would be his usual criticism.

I would’ve appreciated his opinion if he at least suggested ways for me to improve, but all he did was point out the flaws and imperfections in my work. There was nothing encouraging, supportive, or positive at all. He felt as if he gained some right to express his judgment even more on my artistic works. He couldn’t help but compare my works with his.

Art has been my hobby, which I hope to make something greater out of one day. I have a personal collection of my work, but I haven’t taken the step to make it in to a professional portfolio or submit it for an exhibition. Meanwhile, my brother has created many pieces for school and exhibitions.

He’s a professional artist, and I’m just an amateur. He makes sure I remember that, all the time.

I, unofficially, became his competition. Sadly, I couldn’t say anything about his skills since I had no basic knowledge of art theory.

I always stayed silent when he spoke about art, his or mine, until one day, when my mother praised my talents in art, and he intervened.

According to him, my talent wasn’t enough without knowledge. Foundation was important to create a perfect masterpiece, and the best pieces of art were the ones made with correct techniques.

After years of silence, I finally spoke up: “I disagree.”

I told him art could be anything and done in any way the artist wanted it. I told him that art is how I bring my imaginative intensity to life, on the papers and canvases. I’ve learned a lot of ways of art making, but I’ve developed my natural techniques and styles, and my art is valuable too.

Art isn’t always about correct techniques of stroking, shading, and crosshatching. It’s more about expressing ideas, thoughts, and emotions. Art is the urge to express in any visual form. There’s no restriction in art. People are free to express it in any way they preferred.

Since then, he’s never said a word to me about my art.

I hope he’s realized that I don’t need those theories to articulate my thoughts and feelings. If I want to express myself, I choose my own techniques for that and I create beautiful art.

Art is more than just a relaxing hobby. It’s escapism, liberation, and empowerment. As soon as I touch my charcoal stick and open a new blank page of my sketchbook, I’m free to do anything I want.

And I certainly don’t need to follow anyone’s rules on how to do it, especially his.

Science Now + Beyond

Five science artists you never knew you needed to follow

When someone says science, what is the first thing that pops into our head? Is it a lab, the photo that accompanies this post, an astronaut, or maybe a stern looking person in a starched white coat? What about art? We (still) tend to view the arts and the sciences as two separate realms, even though they have a lot in common!

Here are five people who are using their artistic skills to make science more accessible to the general public.

1. Peggy Muddles

Muddles runs @IAmSciArt, a Twitter account run by rotational curation. This means a new science artist takes over the account every week. Followers get a taste of what it’s like to be a science artist, and are introduced to an array of new and exciting art. By day, she works at a genome centre in Toronto, and this shows through her work. Muddles primarily makes fashion pieces, including a whole host of clothing, temporary tattoos, and ceramic jewelry. She also makes magnets and ceramics, including this amazing chip and dip bowl, which is modeled on a eukaryotic cell. Molecular biologists, rejoice! When she’s not looking after @IAmSciArt, she tweets from @VexedMuddler.

Pseudomonas syringae earrings, by thevexedmuddler.
Pseudomonas syringae, a bacterium that infects beans (but not your ears!) Made by and available at

2. Jordan Collver

Collver is an illustrator and comics artist who is currently working on an MA in Science Communication. Much of his work is editorially based, though he has designed posters, and also draws comics for fun! He has assisted in the artistic production of Vanguard Science, and collaborated with many writers to produce educational comics. He has also produced art for conceptually interesting comics, such as A Certain Symmetry, which is wholly symmetrical. You can find him @JordanCollver on Twitter.

"The Indispensible Astronaut". art by Jordan Collver
Promotional artwork by Jordan Collver for “The Indispensible Astronaut”, a short documentary film by Jay Goodwin & Quinn Spadola (2015). Source

3. Nicole Edmond

According to Idan Ben-Barak, “[the] number of microbes per square centimetre of human skin: upward of 100,000”. Nicole Edmond draws inspiration from this fact, and her interest in microbial life is quite apparent in her artwork. As she has stated herself, “science is itself an exploration of life and an endeavor to understand the complexity of the spaces we inhabit,” and art is a way in which many people conduct such an exploration. Much of her artwork is devoted to microbiology, including her Paramecium prints. She is based primarily in Canada, producing exhibitions, combining her prints with book-binding techniques, and running her own Etsy shop, where you can find anything from buttons and magnets to paper and prints. Follow her @NicolePrints for more microbe related art!

Paramecium print, Nicole Edmond
An example of Nicole Edmond’s Paramecium print. Source

4. Pamela Phatismo Sunstrum

Sunstrum is currently based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has, however, travelled the world, creating art and collecting inspiration along the way. She is interested in scientific theories, and the ways in which we engage with the conception of space – on Earth, and in the universe at large. Her alter-ego, Asme, who can be seen in the picture below, often makes appearances in her work, “superimposed with overlapping gestures as a means of suggesting compounded time, illustrating her universal, atemporal existence”. She has shown in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums, and a select number of works are also for sale. Follow her on Twitter here.

Panthea 01, 2016, Pamela Phatismo Sunstrum. Source

5. Michele Banks

Banks paints scarves and petri dish ornaments, and blogs at The Finch and Pea.  Banks is not a scientist by trade, but an artist who was (and still is) constantly inspired by biological images. She has presented her work at many festivals and galleries, but she also sells her wares on Etsy. Her ornaments and prints are hand made and individually painted, while her scarves are painted, photographed, and screen-printed onto fabric. Wearable, individualised science art – who could ask for anything more? Follow her @artologica on Twitter.

Black Petri Dishes Silk Charmeuse Scarf, by Michele Banks
Black Petri Dishes Silk Charmeuse Scarf, by Michele Banks. Source

Science communication is becoming increasingly important, and visual art is a medium often overlooked by scientists and science communicators. The emergence of more science artists, no matter their methods, will play a significant role in convincing the general public that science isn’t just for scientists – it’s for everyone.

Love Life Stories

6 steps to break the news to your parents that you’re not going to be a doctor

How many people are struggling with the problem where your parents want you to be something in the future that you may particularly not be interested in?

(Cough, cough, doctor-engineer-lawyer, cough.)

Welcome to the club.

When you’re little, it’s easy to conform to whatever your parents want you to do, mainly because you don’t know any better. Growing up, I may have wanted to become a teacher, a baker, a fashion designer, an artist, an actress – but at the end of the day, I knew I would become the doctor my parents wanted me to.

[bctt tweet=”I realized I was letting my parents decide my future for me based on their wishes. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

But as I grew older, it wasn’t so simple. I realized I was letting my parents decide my future for me based on their wishes. And in fact, I didn’t know anything much about doctors, besides the fact that they make a lot of money. As I started to come of age, I explored my options more and decided that I had zero interest in the medical field, but a huge passion for education. Teaching is something I’ve always wanted to do, and the older I grew, the more certain I was that wanted to pursue a teaching career.

There’s an enormous diversity of jobs out there. Money is an important factor, to be sure, but does it matter more than your dedication to your field? Going against your parents’ wishes may be uncomfortable at first. But you have to think about your future and what’s in store for you. Although it may be one of the hardest things to do, sometimes we must defy our parents’ wishes to explore and discover our interests and capabilities and go down the “road not taken,” as Robert Frost would say.

So how do you tackle this disagreement between you and your parents? Here’s how I made it work, without any shouting and with only a few tears.

1. Think seriously about your options.


First of all, think about what it is exactly that your parents want to be. Don’t be ignorant or afraid to explore the profession even if you’re not interested. After talking to my mother about becoming a doctor, I gave it some consideration. Is there even the slightest possibility you may want to pursue this career in the future?

[bctt tweet=”Here’s how I made it work, without any shouting and with only a few tears.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I felt I had a one percent chance that I wanted to become a doctor, but that one percent is still something. A little thinking never hurt.

2. Research each field.


Look at the profession your parents have proposed for you. What’s the environment like? What are the working hours and pay? What kind of experience, hobbies, and interests should you have if you want to pursue this career? Injections, blood, and human bodies give me the shivers, so the even just reading about the environment was a total turn off for me. However, I did acquire a broader knowledge of the medical field, which helped show my parents I came prepared.

You might also find that the job you thought you were interested in involved more higher education than you realized, or couldn’t support the kind of lifestyle you’re aiming for.

3. List the pros and cons.


Once you’ve done enough research, use that information to compare and contrast the job you’re interested in vs. what your parents are interested in. Are there any similarities at all? Notice if the differences are major or minor. Teaching students is very different as to dealing with patients.

[bctt tweet=”Trust me, this can be a nerve-wracking step. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

One similarity between the two is that patience is a key quality. But as for the other details and requirements, there are more differences than similarities – not enough that medicine seemed a reasonable compromise for me to make.

4. Consult a neutral third party.


I found that even after all the research and details I wrote down, I was still feeling unsure. I felt like I needed to talk to someone about this. My parents weren’t the greatest option since they are biased. Talk to your friends, but it’s better if you can reach out to or even shadow professionals of both careers you are comparing.

I interviewed some teachers to hear about their experiences, and I actually found that talking to my counselor helped me a lot. It helped me determine the path I wanted to take and realizing that it’s my future, not my parents’.

5. Make your decision.


Do you want to stick to your original career, or would you like to give the career your parents want you to do a try? If you’ve decided to give your parents’ wishes a shot, be involved in something that will give you a taste of the experience you will handle when you’re older. You can never be sure if you like something or not if you don’t try it first. In my case, I was 101 percent sure the medical field wasn’t right for me, so I didn’t take this step. However, because I am interested in teaching, I decided to be a teacher’s aide for future classes to gain some skill and knowledge.

6. Break the news, not their hearts.


After your final decision, it’s finally time to talk to you parents about it. But do it CALMLY. Trust me, this can be a nerve-wracking step. In fact, I was so nervous I burst into tears when I told my parents there is no way I am becoming a doctor.

However, this is where all that backup research comes in. Prove to your parents that you have obtained new insight on the profession and use it as support when you’re making your claim. At the same time, don’t be too harsh. They are your parents and they only want what’s best for you.