Most people picture art as being created in a studio dedicated to creativity, but for mother and artist Tahsin Dhirani, known online and in the art world as ‘tahsin the good’, sometimes her children’s school is the actual setting where art is made.
“I remember distinctly when some of the work that is out right now came about, it was when I was taking my kids around to their classes,” Dhirani said. “I had apps on my phone and I was just kind of digitally drawing.”
For sisters say, a series of work exploring sisterhood and friendship, Dhirani printed out those digital drawings, creating mixed media pieces. The series has been one of her main projects since recently diving back into the art world.
Dhirani graduated from Ryerson’s Fashion and Communication program before starting a company with a friend called CRAFTYCOUTURE, a day camp program offering classes on the topics of fashion, art and design. She ended up closing the business after having her first daughter and becoming pregnant with the next to focus on other things.
Since then, she’s developed skills as a mobile photographer and been involved in various art and business ventures. The next being a spot at the Artist Project as one of 20 emerging artists.
The Artist Project, an annual art showcase at the Better Living Centre running for its 11th year, hosts the UNTAPPED Emerging Artists Competition. The competition accepts applications from art students, graduates who have been out of art school for less than three years and self-taught artists with no formal art education. The 20 chosen artists are given a booth at the showcase for free and are eligible to be chosen for the People’s Choice Award, which gives one of the 20 emerging artists the chance to be a part of next years show, again for free, but this time in the main section of the show. This year, the competition received 225 applications and Dhirani was chosen for one of the 20 spots.
“The first time I had been to the Artist Project was 2014,” Dhirani said. “I know when I went, I said to myself, ‘I’m gonna show here one day.’”
She’s on track. Dhirani had taken a break from some of her work for a couple years to find her voice and figure out what message she wanted to convey, and that break paid off.
“We’re definitely looking for work that feels fresh and contemporary and innovative,” said the Artist Project director Claire Taylor. “There’s a sense of it being a little bit more avant garde, a little bit more daring in terms of the types of artists that are in this part of the show and it also just gives an idea, sort of a snapshot, of what’s happening now in contemporary art in the world, in Canada, in North America.”
Taylor says the jury for the competition, comprised of the show’s management, chose Dhirani because of how contemporary and unique her work is, as well as the fact that text-based work is a current trend in art.
A major reason Dhirani features words in her art is to act as encouragement for her daughters. She features the art around their house, so that her girls can read and internalize the positive messages.
“The words are words that [people] need to hear themselves and so it’s about putting something in [my daughters] that they don’t need to heal from later,” she said. “That’s a tall order, that’s a big ask, but I wanna do my best to do that for them, to provide that kind of environment for them.”
Another challenge she faces is balancing her love for business and art.
“I’m just kind of like newly navigating the space in terms of entrepreneur artist,” she said. “I don’t want to lose myself in either totally, but I feel like I’m leaning towards artist a little bit more these days because I just want to spend time with my medium and my technique and my ability for a good while before I start saying, “Let’s start bringing e-commerce into it and how are going to get it to the people to sell and make money?” because that’s typically what an entrepreneur wants to do is work for their bottom line.”
But dealing with the business side of things isn’t a chore for Dhirani. She’s had a love of entrepreneurship dating back to her father’s days of owning a pharmacy and now, she collaborates with brands, merging her interest in business with her love for social engagement.
“[Collaborations with brands] was actually a way to collaborate with people who resonated with my look, who loved what I was doing, who I felt had similar ethos to what they were doing,” she said. “It’s a lot of wanting to make deeper connections with other people who feel similar to the way to that I feel.”
Dhirani’s work is often photographic portraits manipulated with lines, shapes or speech bubbles. The content of the work is often spiritual and depicts a person’s conversations with their inner guide. Up until now, she’s used photos sourced from the internet as the base of her work.
“I’m using work that is in existence, picking and choosing the pieces that speak to me and speak to the mood of what my work is meant to represent,” she said. “But going forward in this year, it’s my goal to just start getting back into taking my own photos.”
While having and raising her children, Dhirani developed an eye for mobile photography, something she’s held workshops to teach others about. Now, she’s looking to pick up her camera and take photos for her next show after the Artist Project in April.
The Artist Project has also given her a chance to show more diverse work.
“I have a few different veins that I want to go in, and so some of the work that’s gonna be up for the Artist Project is going to be in the new veins, although connected back to the old veins,” she said. “It’s like this little connecting of dots.”
Dhirani says the style of photography and wordplay will be similar, but the work will look different than her previous pieces. Still, one thing we can always expect from ‘tahsin the good’ is work full of deeply personal spirituality and encouragement made with her daughters in mind, but which resonates with us all.
If you want to see tahsin the good’s work at the Artist Project from Feb. 22 to 25, click here for tickets.