Blue and White (Zainab) UNSEEN | SEEN, Inkjet print, 40”x28”, 2014


Zainab Hussain

A Space Windows

June 7 – July 16, 2022

In Unseen/Seen, Zainab Hussain uses paint and photography to explore concepts of identity and the erasure of veiled muslim women in western society. The work pushes on the bounds of what can be seen and visualized, ideology versus identity, and the desire to uncover what is covered.

The women in the portraits were initially photographed without their hijabs on (and their hair visible), only to have the paint act as an abstract replacement of the headscarf. These images were made through a process of painting on smaller photographs, and then scanning the painted works at a high resolution in order to print them at a much larger size, revealing more about the materiality of the paint than could be seen in the original. Similarly these portraits draw attention to the unseen aspects of a person, the vibrant colourful personalities that run deeper than their surface appearances. The words and verses mixed in with the swirls of paint reflect each of these women’s thoughts about their identities, and how they present themselves to the world. 


Zainab Hussain is a first generation Indian-Canadian multidisciplinary artist and Illustrator based in Ottawa, Ontario. Working in Textiles, photography, text, sound, plants, paint, and installation, Hussain is interested in the intertwining of multiple histories and narratives, connection and disconnection, what is hidden and revealed, and the authenticity of memory and identity. Her work often uses humour to implicate viewers in considering the role that lost histories and objects play in building present and future identities within the diasporic experience.

Hussain recently received her MFA from the University of Ottawa in 2020. She has exhibited her work in Canada and the United States, notably at the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Milwaukee and Shirin Gallery in N.Y.C. She is the recipient of project grants from the City of Ottawa and the Ontario Arts Council, the Michel Goulet Award for Excellence in a Master’s of Fine Arts, the Suzanne Rivard-Le Moyne first prize and was a longlist nominee for the Scotia Bank New Generation Photo Award.