“Kaur for me is strength, resilience and endurance. I was a happy child, but as I got older and became aware of the glaring inequalities that existed between men and women, some of that happiness deflated. I had a hard time understanding why my older brother was treated differently because of his gender. I shirked domestic duties and couldn’t stand being called on to serve food or help out in the kitchen. During family gatherings, I hated the concept of men eating first, then children and then finally women. Not only did women eat last, but they had to clean up as well.
I also had conversations with my mom about why ladoos were given out when boys were born, but nothing was given out when girls were born. It infuriated me how undervalued women were, how they did everything for their families, yet weren’t celebrated at all. In some ways, this led me to turn my back on my culture. I do feel shame for doing so and am now trying to reconcile my actions in my own way.
Growing up, I was always drawn to art and creating, but my parents didn’t know how to support me, especially pre-internet where there were no brown role models in the arts to look to.
The pressures of fulfilling obligation steered me in a different direction. I completed a degree in the sciences. Teachers and classmates would wonder why the girl with hair twist extensions and fabric paint glow-in-the dark shirts was in their classes. Later when I was completing a mandatory art class for my degree in education, the teacher urged me to consider a master of fine arts. It finally started to sink in that maybe art was my calling, but since I didn’t know how to take action, it took me a few unproductive years to get there.
When I finally started art college in 2005 at the age of nearly 30, I felt like I was “home”. I completed a two year diploma, graduating with distinction. During my time at art college, I created a 3 print series, When Honour Kills, focused on honour killings in the Lower Mainland and BC; they were happening more prevalently and it was a way for me to process the shock and sadness I was feeling. This was my first step in taking an ugly topic, both personal and cultural, and making something beautiful out of it. My goal was to prompt conversation and shine a light on the women who were killed.
After art college, financial reality brought me back to teaching. I did some art here and there, but nothing substantial. I got married in 2010, and a few years after that, my husband encouraged me to make a website and get back to creating art. I started drawing mandalas, posting them online, and selling them. In 2015, after my son Safa was born, I created a mandala colouring book. A year later, I had to make a choice between staying home with Safa and pursuing art full-time or going back to my regular job. Again, my husband pushed me to focus on art.
In 2016, things started happening. I joined Thrive Art Studio, and through them, I found my art consultant, Pennylane Shen who steered me back to gender justice work. This led to my series and first solo show, Rest In Power (2017), which was inspired by Shauna Singh Baldwin’s novel, The Selector of Souls. I created goddess forms dedicated to women who had been murdered simply for being women, half of whom were South Asian. I wanted to give these women a voice and empower them in the afterlife.
Now my artistic focus is gender justice and gender-based violence. This is a problem in our community and around the globe; I feel a responsibility to speak up and create work to highlight that problem and start those difficult conversations. In adulthood, I am really proud to be a South Asian woman and I hope to inspire that pride, strength and resilience in all women, especially South Asian women.”