Malala’s portrait unveiled at London’s gallery

KARACHI: The world’s youngest Nobel Prize laureate and education activist, Malala Yousafzai, has grac­ed the walls of the National Portrait Gallery in London for the second time — her first portrait went on display at the gallery in 2013.

The new portrait — which was put up for public display on Tuesday — was captured by renowned Iranian-born artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat during their meeting in March.

This portrait is the first in a series of three commissions supported by the Outset Contemporary Art Fund over the last three years.

According to the gallery, the work is one of a pair of portraits of Ms Yousafzai by Ms Neshat acquired for the gallery’s collection. Ms Neshat took a series of photographs during the sitting in London in March.

“From this [series], the artist and the gallery selected two photographs, onto which Ms Neshat hand inscribed in calligraphy a poem, Malala II: (Malala Yousafzai). The poem by Pakhtun poet Rahmat Shah Sayel from Peshawar was written in 2011 when Malala had already become a well-known activist for education,” the gallery added.

The poem addresses the legendary Malala of Maiwand and praises Ms Yousafzai, drawing contrast between the two young women.

“The second portrait of Malala seated at a school desk with an open book will travel to Birmingham Museums, where it will be unveiled in 2020 as part of Coming Home — a new initiative, which will see 50 portraits from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection travel to places across the UK they are closely associated with,” the gallery added.

On Tuesday, Ms Yousafzai’s father tweeted: “Portrait of @Malala by Shirin Neshat unveiled at @NPGLondon. The poem inscribed on the portrait is written by the great Pashto poet Rahmat Shah Sayel. We are grateful to the artist for creating this wonderful piece of art depicting strength, resilience & courage.”

Senator Sherry Rehman also took to Twitter to congratulate the young activist, saying: “Lovely portrait of @Malala in the National Portrait Gallery. We should all be proud of this brave, brilliant and lovely young woman who has become the poster girl for resilience all over the world! May she shine on! Be proud Pakistan.”

According to a press release, the gallery’s director Dr Nicholas Cullinan said that they were delighted to have commissioned these powerful new portraits “which represent an historic coming together of an inspirational and fearless young woman, who has had a profound impact on the education and welfare of girls throughout the world, with a leading international artist known for her unique and pioneering work”.

Quoting Ms Yousafzai’s comment on the unveiling of the portrait in London, the statement added: “I am honoured to have my portrait included in the gallery alongside some of Britain’s most influential writers, artists and leaders. I hope it will remind visitors that girls everywhere are fighting for change in their communities and countries — their stories must also be heard.”

“I knew of Malala as an extraordinary young woman who had marvelled the world by her victory over death; her fierce fight for women’s education and for winning the Nobel Peace Prize, all before she turned 20 years old,” said Ms Neshat on the occasion.

“It was impossible not to feel intimidated … Yet as she arrived at the studio to be photographed, I was immediately taken aback by her timid, gentle and innocent demeanour. To this day, when I look back on our encounter, I am left with impressions of humility, wisdom and a rare sense of inner beauty,” she recalled.

Ms Yousafzai has joined notable Pakistanis to grace the gallery’s collection, including Prime Minister Imran Khan (his ex-wife Jemima Khan also has a portrait), former prime minister Liaquat Ali Khan, Gen Yahya Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, diplomat Agha Hilaly and actor Zia Mohyeddin.

Published in Dawn, October 3rd , 2018

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