The Forgotten Women of Science
The Forgotten Women of Science, 2019
A Solo Exhibition at The San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
The Forgotten Women of Science features lesser-acknowledged female scientists, from ancient times to the nineteenth century, and highlights their contributions to science. History shows that there were many powerful, intelligent and professional women in a wide range of scientific fields. These women did not just assume marginalized roles in the male-dominated fields of science; they were also pioneers and generators of cutting-edge ideas.
In mid-2018, Pantea Karimi was invited to create a piece about the #MeToo movement for an exhibition, during which The Forgotten Women of Science project was borne. Through ideas, images, and texts, Karimi challenges the inadequate recognition of female scientists in historic records by highlighting their names, stories and achievements.
The information for this exhibition is taken from articles, books, and online sources. Karimi has included names from ancient times up to the nineteenth century when the suffrage movement took shape. She has showcased diverse countries and cultures but still, many names are not represented here, including Iranian female scientists from the medieval to the nineteenth century. This is due to insufficient or contradictory data that she encountered in her research. Some of the texts are manipulated with white threads or crossed out to draw attention to the challenge of gathering authentic data on these female scientists.
The Other Kind of Embroidery, 2019, hand-painted embroidery hoops, silkscreen on fabric, hand-embroidered with gold and silver threads
H:66 x W:73 x D:18 inches
The Other Kind of Embroidery displays the scientific observation of nature and drawings by Mary Ward. I extracted images from her manuscript, The Microscope, which I studied at theInstitute Archives at MIT in the Fall of 2018. I screen-printed her scientific drawings on fabric, stretched them over embroidery hoops and stitched on the images using gold and silver threads. The circle shapes and hoops reference the microscope eyepiece and field of vision. I painted the hoops in black and white and printed the images with hues, which reflect Ward’s original color scheme in her illustrations. Embroidery was part of conventional female education in the 18th and 19th centuries in England and Ireland. The embroidery images were mainly generic. By printing Ward’s scientific drawings on fabric and stitching through them, I aim to bring attention to her scientific work and elaborate drawings through a conventional activity that was assigned to women at the time.
As an artist, I have been interested in studying scientific manuscripts that were also illustrated by scientists who had artistic abilities. This manuscript not only fulfilled my visual interest but also was written and illustrated by a female scientist. It has given me the pleasure to relate to the work both as an artist and a woman.
The Other Kind of Embroidery, details H:66 x W:73 x D:18 inches
The Other Kind of Embroidery, details of embroidery hoops, variable dimension
The Other Kind of Embroidery, and panels: Mary Ward and Mary the Jewess
Mary Ward, the Irish scientist and artist, 19th c.
An Introduction, 2019, digital illustration and print on fabric, each panel: 48 x 34 inches
Women scientists featured in this series are Ada Lovelace, Lubna of Cordoba, Laura Bassi, Rufida, Mary Anning, Trota of Salerno,
Hypatia, Mary the Jewess, and Mary Ward
An Introduction showcases nine scientists whose works I found remarkable for their time and circumstances. Many images of early female scientists have not survived or are not suitable for artistic production. Using images I gathered, I digitally illustrated these nine scientists and composed the panels with diagrams, reflecting their scientific works, and their brief life stories. The layout of the panels and colors represent pages of manuscripts and scientific themes. The softness of hues and layered images symbolize their “forgotten” names in our current memories. In some of the panels, parts of their biographies are crossed out as a commentary on the inconsistency of profiles that I found on these women.
An Introduction, Lubna of Cordoba and Hypatia
Apothecary, 2019, 200+ bottles with 12th c. recipes, H: 6 x W: 60 x D: 42 inches
This work features 200 bottles containing rolled papers of medical recipes from the medieval period that concern women’s health or beauty. The recipes are taken from the book The Trotula, an English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine (2001), edited and translated by Dr. Monica H. Green. The Trotula is an ensemble of three independent works, written by three different authors. One of them was written by, or derived from the teachings of, Trota of Salerno in the 12th century, according to Dr. Green. These recipes address various health issues for women, children, and men, using herbs, plants, seeds, animal fat or bone, eggs, and wine, to name a few.
Examples of the recipes inside the bottles:
From the book, The Trotula, an English Translation of the Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine (2001), edited and translated by Dr. Monica H. Green.
“For whitening the Hands  for whitening and smoothing the hands, let some ramsons be cooked in water until all the water has been consumed. And stirring well, add tartar and afterward two eggs, and with this you will rub the hands.”
“On Freckles of the Face  For freckles of the face which occur by accident, take root of bistort and reduce it to powder, and cuttlefish bones and frankincense, and from all these things make a powder. And mix with little water and then smear it, rubbing, on the hands in the morning, rubbing them with rose water or water of bran or with breadcrumbs until you have removed [the freckles].”
“For removing wrinkles  For wrinkled old women, take stinking iris, that is gladden, and extract its juice, and with this juice anoint the face in the evening. And in the morning the skin will be raised and it will erupt, which rupture we treat with the above-mentioned ointment in which root of lily is employed. And first pulling off the skin, which after the rupture has been washed, it will appear very delicate.”
Embroidery and Needle Work were part of conventional female education in the 18th and 19th centuries in England and Ireland. On the walls, I have included texts from the manuscript: Lectures on Female Education and Manners by J. Burton, printed in 1796. I read parts of this book during my extended visit to the Marsh’s Library in Dublin, Ireland in July 2019.
An Introduction, 2019, digital illustrations, each 48 x 34 inches
Many images of early female scientists have not survived or are not suitable for artistic production. Using images I gathered, I digitally illustrated these nine scientists and composed the panels with diagrams, reflecting their scientific works, and their brief life stories. The layout of the panels and colors represent pages of manuscripts and scientific themes. The softness of hues and layered images symbolize their “forgotten” names in our current memories. In some of the panels, parts of their biographies are crossed out as a commentary on the inconsistency of profiles that I found on these women.
Women Scientists: Vision & Visibility, 2/23/2020, 3:30-5:00 PM
A Panel Discussion with Artist (Pantea Karimi)
Historian (Dr. Paula Findlen), and Scientist (Dr. Suzanne Pierre)
Moderated by Dr. Alison Marklein
Pantea Karimi: The Forgotten Women of Science, an art project and exhibition
Dr. Paula Findlen, Stanford University:
Women of Science: Myths, Realities, Genealogies in the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Dr. Suzanne Pierre, UC Berkeley President’s Postdoctoral Fellow; Creator: Critical Ecology; member of 500 Women Scientists: Equality and Justice Through Scientific Practice
Artist Talk at Los Altos Library, Feb 11th, 1:30-2:15 PM.
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
Marsh’s Library, Dublin, Ireland
Manuscript: Female Education and Manners, by J. Burton, 18th c.
Marsh’s Library, Dublin, Ireland
Photos by Pantea Karimi
An Alternative Installation Proposal to feature The Forgotten Women of Science
The above 3-D rendered diagram features a medieval structure called Majlis. In the medieval 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, the term conjures up several meanings from gathering places to parties and a place of democratic and parliamentary debates. My installation 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 Majlis, the viewers can lean on cushions that are laid on the floor. Each cushion has a portrait of a female scientist, who contributed to the 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: 7 x 7 x 7 feet
3-D rendition by Parham Karimi, Toronto, Canada
Example of images printed on cushions and an alternative installation for Majlis if a floor structure can’t be accommodated. The Image features two gallery walls, 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: 7 x 7 x 7 feet