Pakistani designer ignites debate with powerful feminist graphics
Sophie Hemery | cnn.com
Shehzil Malik began producing feminist graphics as a form of « catharsis » — a counterweight to the gender inequality she sees in Pakistan. Her vibrant, subversive images, which include hijabi bikers, tattooed women and a brown-skinned Wonder Woman, were a defiant kind of therapy.
« Pakistan is a difficult place to be a girl, » she said from her home in Lahore.
Coming from a wealthy family, Malik is profoundly aware that her experiences don’t reflect those of all women in the country. But many of the struggles she addresses cross boundaries of social class: oppressive beauty and sartorial strictures; pressure to marry; restricted independence and freedom of movement; sexual harassment and violence that Human Rights Watch describes as « routine. »
Her first series, which was about « the anxiety of stepping outside, » was unflinching in its critique of the status quo. One of the comic-style illustrations, which drips in satire, depicts the preparation required for women to become « socially acceptable » — necklines, hemlines, shawls, hair, makeup, embellishments. Another graphic shows a collection of floating eyeballs looming over a lone woman.
Walking the streets is « not what Pakistani girls do, » said Malik, whose own predilection for public space inspired the series.
« Everyday without fail, » she has written of her daily walks, « I’d be followed, heckled, sung to and stared at. I’ve been groped more times than I can remember. »