Activist and artist, Maliha Abidi discusses her work, ’Rise,’ with Ayan Omar
Every activist has a dynamic way of bringing their opinions forward that forces people to pay attention. Activism takes on many forms, each as unique and brilliant as the other. Whether it’s sending a message through music, film, protesting, or organising, it all creates a disturbance.
Art and activism
Art has a long history with activists’ movements of every kind. According to Tate Galleries, activist art is created to offer a ‘form of political or social currency, actively addressing cultural power structures’. Trailblazers like Ai Weiwei, Favianna Rodriguez, The Guerrilla Girls, Keith Haring, Diego Rivera have created such currencies through their art.
For 24-year-old Maliha Abidi, art is her medium. Although a neuroscience student, Maliha views her unshakable passion for art as her first love. Art is a tool to mobilize communities and create social change on various issues. For Maliha, art comes naturally. She utilises it as a platform to raise awareness on issues she’s passionate about.
Rise: extraordinary women of colour who changed the world
Maliha uses her platform to speak on issues affected by women of colour. Her work embodies her passions in many ways. An example is her thought-provoking collection, ‘Pakistan for Women,’ and, ‘Rise,’ a series of stunning illustrations capturing women of all backgrounds. Maliha illuminates women across all spectrums from entertainers, scientists, and sportswomen to the less appreciated strengths of activists.
“ I started to explore stories from various countries and cultures, and I’ve been doing that for several years but the difference with those series is that Rise is the biggest collection that I have created and it’s the most important project I’ve ever worked on”Maliha
‘Rise’ was inspired by brilliant strong women of colour who we witness every day. For Maliha, who moved to the States from Pakistan, diversity was a new concept. But soon it would hold meaning to her. Instances where, as a child, students in her school would relate terrorism with her faith stunned her. However, it also planted the idea of how important accurate representation was.
“Slowly I understood that the stereotypes or the biases that people have are wrong and they do not represent true stories of incredible and unique people from all around the world.”Maliha
‘Rise’ does this exactly, by representing unique people who have obliterated stereotypes they faced. She shows women who have dominated in sports, civil rights women who have moulded history, women in politics, film industry and music and activism.
“I wanted to keep diversity and intersectionality in mind so the diversity in Rise is not limited to the skin colour or just ethnic diversity, but include stories of real women who have made real change in their country and communities.”Maliha
‘I’ve seen brilliant women of colour who were rejected regardless of their talent.’
The motivation behind Rise is to give women of colour who have made huge contributions to society the spotlight they deserve Maliha says. Women of colour are constantly being neglected globally, but Maliha’s work is amplifying their voices. Whether it’s the entertainment field ignoring BIPOC talent, or Black and Brown climate activists being shunned, there has been a growing pattern across all sectors that demonstrate the ways in which women of colour are ignored.
This extends even into the safety of women of colour, and the growing epidemic of violence against women. In the wake of Gabby Petito, and Sarah Everard, it has become evident that racial prejudice is prevalent even in the media. Who advocates for women of colour in these cases? There is a lack of attention paid to women of colour who go missing.
“The data is there that the number of black women or trans women or indigenous women and other women of colour that go missing or are abused or are killed cannot even compare to any other group.”Maliha
Ultimately, Maliha’s ‘Rise’ reminds us once again of the accomplishments of women of colour, despite the strenuous obstacles they faced. It’s her ability to recognise and celebrate their achievements that makes her work contain so much depth and meaning.