Artists Up Close
Artists Up Close Podcast
Shima Star Is “Too Controversial” For You
Shima Star Is “Too Controversial” For You
Are politicized female nudes too controversial for Seattle galleries?
Shima Star at Studio 103 Gallery, Seattle WA, Sept. 2023 (Photo by Beverly Aarons)

Vibrant vulva landscapes, poster-style paintings of women giving birth, and multichromatic ovaries and fallopian tubes adorn the walls of Shima Star’s solo exhibition Too Controversial at Studio 103 Gallery in Seattle, WA. This collection explores women’s experiences — from pregnancy to media portrayal. It celebrates women’s contributions and challenges societal limitations. But this show almost didn’t happen.

Raised in multicultural London in the 1980s and 90s, Star's life was deeply influenced by her parents' traditional values. Her parents, who are of Indian descent, immigrated to London after Idi Amin expelled all Asians from Uganda in 1972.   And like most immigrant parents, they wanted to ensure their daughter’s success in their adopted country by guiding her towards the ‘right’ path, which excluded art.

“So, I grew up in a very strict household, to the point of the usual kinds of stories that we hear with people — artists who are first-generation immigrants, children of first-generation immigrants, so to speak, because we're not allowed to be artists, this isn't usually an option or choice given to us,” said Shima Star. “And I grew up in a bit of a very similar way, similar stories in the sense of ‘be an accountant or be a lawyer, be a doctor.’ And I was never going to be any of those things. I knew from a really young age that I was never going to be any of those things. And I wasn't allowed to paint and draw at home, I wasn't allowed to do that at all, the only place I was able to do that was at school.”

Growing up, Star lived a double life. At school she would draw and paint and take art classes, but she had to hide it from her parents. She wasn’t even allowed to bring art supplies into the family home. And when it came time to take final exams when she was 16 years old, she intentionally failed many of them so her parents would allow her to study art instead of law, medicine or some other traditional profession. She didn’t tell her mother the truth of what she’d done until 2022.  She did attend art school, but even as her skills improved her mother insisted that she conceal her nude paintings from her father.

To learn more about Shima Star’s Too Controversial exhibition, join us on Saturday, September 30, 2023. We will being doing an in-person artist talk with Star at 3pm at Studio 103 Gallery, 306 S Washington St #103, Seattle, WA 98104. The event is free and open to the public.

“I felt a lot of shame around it,” Star said, “a tremendous amount of shame around it for a very long time. But during the pandemic, I was able to find a really great community and talk about it and understand that I'm not alone with these stories.”

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