Let's talk art and other things
Tahsin Dhirani on being a creator of all things
We sat down with Canadian-born multidisciplinary artist Tahsin Dhirani for a Saturday afternoon chat. Located right outside of Toronto, she invited us to her charming home filled with the large canvases of her latest collections and a private outdoor urban oasis. During this interview, she shares her perspectives on art, life, and motherhood.
How would you describe your art?
As a visual person, I like to create things. I love things that are beautiful. I create art as a way of expressing whatever I am feeling without having to be literal. Art is the way that I share. It's a part of me. At first, I shied away from calling myself an artist because I didn't want that label, thinking that I wouldn't fit in. I remember reading a line from one of Nayyirah Waheed's poem where it said "My heart is in my mind. That's why I'm an artist", and that was it for me. I can define my art when I make it, but once I put it out, it can be anything to anybody. That's the beauty of art. Your work is your work, let it be.
How did your upbringing shaped who you are as an artist?
I grew up as a brown Muslim girl with a Ugandan father and a Kenyan mother in Oakville, Canada. As a kid, my parents allowed me to do a lot of fun things like play dress up, where I would use paper clips as earrings. At the same time, there was an expectation for me to go to school and to do something a little more conventional. When it came time to apply to university, I applied to three programs: Science, Business and Fashion Communications. I applied to Fashion Communications at Ryerson with no intentions of getting in as I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Everyone around me was taking a more conventional path, and that didn't fuel me. When I got accepted into the fashion program, it was a massive boost for me because I had never taken an art class and everything was exciting. While in school, I created a clothing line where I reworked used clothing items by adding prints and embellishments to them. It is only later in life that I realized that my creativity was always there. A lot of my interests and abilities existed from the very beginning. I believe that there are things that you are destined to be on this earth and if you take the time to think about it, then you will get to it.
"I believe that there are things that you are destined to be on this earth and if you take the time to think about it, then you will get to it."
Tell us about your journey as a creative entrepreneur.
Right after university, a friend and I started CRAFTYCOUTURE, an art and design camp for kids. I also had several other businesses including a graphic design company and a storybook project. My dad was an entrepreneur, so it's probably in my blood. While my companies were very successful, my commitment to them changed after a few years. I had kids, and it all became too much. I did not want to do it anymore. I always tried to find where I fit in and what I was meant to do. All of sudden, I no longer felt sure about anything else aside from my kids. So in 2015, I shut everything down. I turned inward because nothing was going right. It was sort of a rebirth, a season where I needed to be quiet and a little more still. I felt like I was giving a lot, and I was not getting much in return, and it shouldn't be like that. It's nice to give and not worry about what you're getting. At any point in your life, when you get off the path you're on, all you have to do is ask to get back on that path. With anything you do or any decisions you make in life, there is always going to be a return. Simply begin again.
Many artists struggle with selecting a price for their art. How do you determine your art's worth?
I’ve undervalued myself before because I didn't set things up correctly. I had my first art show in 2009 at my cousin's condo. I played small at the time, and I didn't have much experience with sales, so I just put a small price on my items. Since then, I have a lot learned. I read a book titled "Art/Work," which is a guide on how to price your art. According to the authors, you should price your art at whatever you feel, and if the art is good and people like it, they will buy it. They also recommend the artist to have a side job. It's important to have your livelihood paid for in a different way other than your art. This way you can feel free when creating. I know a lot of artists in Toronto, emerging or not, that have another job. Taking care of my kids is my other job. My goal is to offer art in many different forms so that it can be accessible.
Does your husband support your creative journey?
It's interesting. Our marriage is always a work in progress. Does my husband fully understand me now? I don't know. We are still figuring each other out. We've been married for eight years, and honestly, it's been a challenge. We've taken an unconventional path, and we've rode with it. I stopped everything in 2015 and it was like a depression. I had to check myself, and he didn't know what to do; however, he was patient with me, which is good. It's a slow work of progress, and I'm excited to see where our partnership goes. Communication is key. So if we want it to be the way we envisioned our family, then we have to do the work.
Motherhood plays a big part of who you are. What has that experience been like for you?
Motherhood gave me a role. My children are always asking for my help. Just by being around me and seeing the things that I am interested in, they pick up on that. That proximity is super important, and they need that. After spending time at home with my girls, I realized that I was meant to create art and to put it out there. I am not saying that kids are my only priority and that I should only focus on them. But my children put the fire under my ass; they inspire me. I have to get it together so I can teach them. That means loving myself, forgiving myself and taking care of myself, so that I can do things with the people that matter the most, my family. It's not about money or superficial achievements, it's simpler than that. I don't want to get caught up in the whirlwind of material things anymore. My children are my purpose. Otherwise, what have I left? That's my legacy.
"I have to get it together so I can teach them. That means loving myself, forgiving myself and taking care of myself, so that I can do things with the people that matter the most, my family."
If anything, what lessons would you want your kids to take away from your life's work?
I talk to them about listening to their own thoughts, heart, and mind. I want them to be able to have their say. That was one thing that was a struggle for me. Although no one ever silenced me, I silenced myself because I felt like I wasn't smart enough, sassy enough, or anything enough. Sometimes, the things I wanted to talk about were different from the things the people around me were talking about, so I just quieted my voice. I don't want my kids to feel restrained. They are very vocal right now, so I want them to continue to articulate whatever is going on in their head and be able to share it. My role is to create an inspiring environment for them where they can be a flower and grow, as they want to.
How does Tahsin take care of Tahsin?
Prayer and meditation have always been big for me. When you're growing up, people are taught a prescribed way to pray; but, it's more intuitive for me. It's about taking that conversation to a more comfortable place and not being so structured. I also find that dancing has been such a release for me. Sometimes I watch Solange's performances, and I'm like OMG that's how I dance. Simple, fluid and emotive. Even more so, I enjoy taking the time to sit still and be quiet to record my thoughts. There's a book titled the "Artist Way," where the author talks about "morning pages" which are writing three pages every morning, don't filter yourself, just write. Writing has helped me a lot.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
We encourage you to share this conversation with your #villij. To learn more about Tahsin, visit her website www.tahsinthegood.com and her Instagram feed @tahsinthegood.