Date February 8, 2024
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Art exhibition at Brown’s Watson Institute puts new spin on ancient art of Indo-Persian miniature painting

A series of paintings by Mahnoor Hussain, a Rhode Island-based artist whose work focuses on themes related to women’s mental health, infertility and loss, is on display through May 31.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With works titled “Ultrasound,” “Specimen” and “Eve’s Punishment,” Mahnoor Hussain explores through her art deeply personal — and political — themes related to women’s mental health, infertility and loss.

Hussain’s paintings are on view at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs through May 31, in an exhibition titled “Digitizing the Miniature: Mahnoor Hussain and the Spirit of Feminism  — Crafting digital narrative in classical Indo-Persian form.”

“While each piece is intensely personal, I hope my work also resonates as a powerful collective experience,” said Hussain, who lives in Cranston, Rhode Island. “The aim is that these artworks serve as a social commentary that implores a reevaluation of fundamental women’s rights, and for each brushstroke to transform into a tool of advocacy.” 

Colorful and inviting at first glance, many of Hussain’s works feature depictions of a serious nature: for example, women undergoing medical procedures or experiencing the loss of a pregnancy.  “I actually want to create a little discomfort for the viewer,” she said.

The exhibition is curated by Brown Ph.D. student Nainvi Vora and supported by the Saxena Center for Contemporary South Asia at the Watson Institute and Brown's Department of History of Art and Architecture. It highlights Hussain’s contemporary approach to the ancient art of Indo-Persian miniature painting, which Hussain spent several years studying in her home city of Lahore, Pakistan.

Previously, Hussain worked with traditional gouache paint and wasli paper. In more recent years, she has been modernizing the artform’s traditional motifs by painting digitally with an iPad and Apple Pencil. After printing the digitized works, she uses acrylic paint to add additional detail.

“I would go back to Pakistan to get my materials, but with limited space in my suitcase, it became difficult,” said Hussain, who moved to the U.S. with her husband for his job in medicine. “I also like the convenience of working digitally.”

Vora, who is a doctoral student in the history of art and architecture, is originally from Mumbai and is specializing in South Asian modern and contemporary art as she pursues her Ph.D. at Brown. She said she wanted to showcase Hussain’s work to amplify the contributions of women to the field.

“Working in modern art has made me realize how women artists have often been overlooked, especially in South Asia,” she said. “I’m grateful that the Watson Institute has given us a space to explore these ideas.”

The exhibition is on view in the institute’s Stephen Robert ’62 Hall at 280 Brook St. in Providence through May 31. An artist talk with Hussain will be held on Thursday, Feb. 8, at 5:15 p.m. in the building’s Truth North Classroom.