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Mahnoor Hussain explores women’s health in ‘powerful’ new exhibit

Series on display in Stephen Robert ’62 Hall until May 31

Hussain's exhibition delves into the complex themes of women’s and reproductive health.
Hussain's exhibition delves into the complex themes of women’s and reproductive health.

Inside Stephen Robert ’62 Hall, through the double doors on Brook Street, passers-by are immediately immersed in Mahnoor Hussain’s new exhibition “Digitizing the Miniature: Mahnoor Hussain and the Spirit of Feminism.”

Hussain's exhibition delves into the complex themes of women’s and reproductive health. The 16 paintings, carefully curated by Nainvi Vora GS, a PhD candidate in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, offer an exploration of these issues.

While the exhibit started as a personal exploration of infertility, Hussain said she realized she wanted to share her story with the world after Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022.

Holly Shaffer, an assistant professor of history of art and architecture, introduced Vora and Hussain to one another. Shaffer also helped select the paintings during the year-long curation process, culminating in an exhibit she called “powerful.”


When asked which was her favorite piece, Shaffer said she couldn’t choose — all of them stood out to her. She reiterated that the topics Hussain explores, although “challenging,” “difficult” and “uncomfortable,” are subjects that should be spoken about more openly, especially in times when women’s civil rights are not guaranteed worldwide.

Hussain grew up in Pakistan, only recently moving to Rhode Island. Her parents, both fashion designers, and her sister, a graphic designer, motivated her to explore her artistic talents during childhood, she said.

“It’s the way I see the world. I really can’t imagine life without it,” Hussain said. 

Hussain attended art school in Pakistan and studied the Indo-Persian miniature style, an art form that requires extensive preparation as well as specialized tools such as a squirrel-tailed brush.

Once in the United States, Hussain struggled to find the appropriate materials, so she used an iPad to digitize her work, she said. This allowed her to combine a traditional style with a contemporary focus — a theme that weaves throughout her exhibit.

Cristina Kester ’26, a visitor to the exhibit, said she was especially “struck” by the expressions of the women in the paintings, saying that they looked “indignant” as they were forced into specific gender roles. Speaking about several pieces depicting pregnant women, she interpreted their emotional displays as a resentment of their pregnancy.

Kester also mentioned how gender norms “demonize” women who can’t have children and credited Hussain for bringing these issues to the surface.

The curation process was highly detailed, according to Hussain. Vora and Shaffer spent hours in Hussain’s home, choosing pieces to be used in the exhibition. The trio was able to bond over their womanhood, Hussain said, which she thought added a lot to the curation process.

Hussain highlighted that it was interesting to meet Vora, who is from India, halfway around the world from their home countries and still connect around issues of femininity.

According to Vora, Hussain’s work aims to “break stereotypical boundaries of gender roles” and encourage female representation in South Asian modern and contemporary art.


Hussain said she hopes her work “can draw more attention” to women’s issues, adding that she appreciates when people share their personal interpretations of her work.

“I want the work to talk to them,” she said. “It’s an insight of what my work can mean, and sometimes I don’t see it myself.”

The exhibit will be on display until May 31.

Clarification: This article has been updated to more accurately describe Vora's field of art.

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Teddy Fisher

Teddy Fisher is a contributing writer who studies International and Public Affairs and is passionate about law, national security and sports. He enjoys playing basketball, running and reading in his free time.

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