Nobel Laureate is inspired by Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani activist promoting girls' education, who won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.
She actually shares the prize with Indian national Kailash Satyarthi. I was particularly struck by Malala winning for several reasons:
- besides her, I could only name one other female Nobel Laureate (Marie Curie for Physics, 1903 & Chemistry, 1911). I've since looked it up (thanks Wikipedia) and it turns out 47 women have won Nobel prizes (compared to about 803 men);
- Malala is the first Pakistani to win this award, at a time when most people associate Pakistan with terrorism and violence; and
- she's also the youngest person to win a Nobel prize, at age 17; yet in her acceptance speech (well worth watching), she challenged the leaders of Pakistan and India to meet and resolve their differences.
What a wonderful inspiration!
I grew up in Pakistan at a time when there was a female head of state (Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister for two non-consecutive terms in the late '80s and early '90s). Politics being politics, it's debatable what her legacy is. Today, however, girls growing up there can proudly look to Malala as a role model and sign of hope and promise in desperate times, a living example of someone who overcame great adversity (including being shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012) and went on to create tangible change. Not only that, but one of the most prestigious award-giving bodies has recognized a young female from a modest background in the Global South. I feel like that would be an inspiration for girls (and women like me) growing up anywhere.
In the painting, I portray the traditional Pakistani attire called shalwar kameez, choosing pink because Malala often wears that color, but noting that this is not a portrait of her – it could be anyone, that’s why there’s no body, in keeping with this Flawless series. She is in a sparse classroom – a nod to promoting education for girls – with a window overlooking the Hunza Valley, one my favorite places in Pakistan (not where Malala is from) and based on a photo I took there (we lived in Gilgit, a couple of valleys over, but would go to Hunza for holidays).
In my Flawless series I strive to reshape gender norms by refusing to apologize for femininity, recognizing that pretty isn't weak.