Forgotten Women of Science

Forgotten Women of Science

Forgotten Women of Science, 2019

History shows that there were many powerful and intelligent women who enjoyed professional careers in a wide range of scientific fields. Women scientists have long been under-represented and sometimes forgotten in historical accounts and scientific textbooks. These women did not just assume marginalized roles in the oft male-dominated fields of science; they were also pioneers and generators of cutting-edge ideas. The Forgotten Women of Science exhibition features lesser-acknowledged female scientists from ancient times to the nineteenth century and highlights their contributions to science and stories of their struggles in the field of science.

The Forgotten Women of Science is currently under production and will be exhibited at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles (Jan-March, 2020).

My installation features a medieval structure called Majlis. In the medieval Arab world Majlis referred to a place of a private gathering, where guests were received by the king. In modern Arabic and other Middle Eastern languages the term carries a variety of connotations. In Persian, for example, the term conjures up several meanings from gathering places to parties and a place of democratic and parliamentary debates. My installation Majlis turns the traditional male dominated space of the king and his entourage into a feminine space.

Majlis, with sheer draperies invites the visitors inside to get to know the forgotten female scientists of the ancient, medieval and early modern eras.  In the Majlis the viewers can lean on cushions which are laid on the floor. Each cushion has a portrait of a female scientist, who contributed to preservation or advancement of science. Each image accompanies hashtagged words from the women’s biography. The hashtags are meant to conjure up the recent #metoo and #timesup movements.  The viewers then see a video projection on the ceiling composed of the celestial and mathematical diagrams or medicinal remedies, which drawn or developed by these women scientists. The cushions and the drapery are aimed to provide a vision of a domestic and sensual space, where these women would have been perceived but simultaneously, they form a locus for intellectual encounters.

Dimension: 7x7x7 feet
3-D rendition by Parham Karimi, Toronto, Canada

Alternative installation for Majlis if a floor structure can’t be accommodated. Views 1 & 2, showcase two walls (in the gallery), cushions on a bench for visitors to sit on, draperies and a projector on the wall, above the bench, that project images across
Dimension approximately: 7x7x7 feet

Example of images printed on cushions, Hypatia of Alexandria and Lubna of Cordoba

#Hypatia, 2018, Silkscreen and color graphite on paper, 18×24 in
After Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician who was brutally murdered due to her intelligence and influential role in politics

Description: #Hypatia, depicts Hypatia of Alexandria, a philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician. Hypatia was the advisor to the Roman prefect of Alexandria. As the political atmosphere of Alexandria shifted from a relatively open society to a conservative Christian one, Hypatia became subject to criticism and violence. Eventually, she was brutally murdered by a mob of Christian monks, who accused her of preventing the reconciliation between the bishop of Alexandria and prefect. Owing to her influential role in science and politics, Hypatia remained strong in the collective imagination of Europeans. During the Middle Ages, Hypatia was co-opted as a symbol of Christian virtue and during the Enlightenment, she became a symbol of opposition to Catholicism. In the twentieth century, Hypatia became seen as an icon for women’s rights and a precursor to the feminist movement. #Hypatia, features Hypatia under the arc derived from The School of Athens, a fresco by the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, where she was depicted. The mathematical diagrams are targeting her neck, as a metaphor for her death due to her intelligence.

#Hypatia, 2019, digital illustrations and digital print on fabric

#Mary Ward, 2019, digital illustrations and digital print on fabric

Description: Mary Ward was a 19th century Anglo-Irish naturalist, avid amateur astronomer, microscopist, author and artist. At the time in Ireland, universities and most scientific societies would not accept women but she was determined and persistent in pursuit of knowledge. She lacked formal training in science but corresponded with universities and scientists to obtain information. She wrote popular works including The Microscope Teachings, published in 1869, which its third edition is owned by the MIT. This manuscript placed her among the earliest women to publish in such fields. All of the illustrated plates in her manuscripts were produced from Ward’s own drawings, showcasing her artistic skill and ability.

As an artist, I have been interested in scientific drawings for many years.  I am particularly interested in manuscripts drawn by scientists. This manuscript not only fulfills my visual interest as an artist but also was written and illustrated by a female scientist. Therefore it gave me the opportunity to relate to the work on a personal level as an artist and a woman.

#Lubna of Cordoba, 2019, digital illustrations and digital print on fabric

Description: Image of Lubna of Cordoba, 10th c., under the arc of Cordoba palace with her mathematical diagrams. Lubna of Córdoba was an Andalusian intellectual and mathematician famous for her knowledge of grammar and the quality of her poetry. Originally a slave girl of Spanish origin, she later became the secretary of the Caliph of CórdobaAl-Hakam II, a great defender of culture. In the library of Córdoba, Lubna was in charge of writing, and translating many manuscripts. Along with Hasdai ibn Shaprut, she was the driving force behind the creation of the famous library of Medina Azahara, which was home to more than 500,000 books.

#Trota of Salerno, 2019, digital illustrations and digital print on fabric

Description: Trota of Salerno was a medical practitioner and medical writer in the southern Italian coastal town of Salerno who lived sometime in the early or middle decades of the 12th century. Her fame spread as far away as France and England in the 12th and 13th centuries. A Latin text that gathered some of her therapies (and even recounted a cure she had performed) was incorporated into an ensemble of treatises on women’s medicine that came to be known as the Trotula. Trota’s authentic work (including a collection of her cures, known as the Practical Medicine According to Trota) was forgotten until it was rediscovered in the late 20th century. He image is depicted under a diagram of urine samples as symbol of her medical research.

#Rufaida, 2019, digital illustrations and digital print on fabric

(approx. 620 AD) was an Islamic medical and social worker recognized as the first female Muslim nurse and the first female surgeon in Islam


The Microscope, written and illustrated by Mary Ward, an Irish scientist, artist and microscopist, 19th C.
Photos: Pantea Karimi
Manuscript’s third edition is housed at the MIT