Shehzil Malik and Pakistan’s Superheroine
Announcing an artist cooperation
Cooperations mean collaboration and inspiration, along with concentrating collective strengths for a greater collective cause. We are therefore very pleased for the opportunity to introduce you today to Shehzil Malik, the distinguished Pakistani artist designing a “Limited Edition” for Ethletic.
Shehzil lives in Lahore, Pakistan. The former Fulbright Scholar loves to take long walks to clear her head and reflect on new projects. But strolling through the local park near her home takes preparation. She says, “It feels like I’m entering a battlefield”.
It starts with the “appropriate” clothing she has to change into before leaving the house. Next comes removing her make-up as a precautionary measure and then binding her hair tightly in the back. All these superficialities are necessary to make her way through Pakistan’s patriarchal society without being starred at too much and to prevent attacks like the one’s Shehzil has experienced dozens of times.
Superficialities they may be, but they go deeper. They have the power to touch a woman’s very identity, to unsettle and restrict her, to prevent her from participating in her own life.
Shehzil’s work as an illustrator and designer addresses issues of gender, identity and equality.
On the one hand she critically and very vividly confronts the injustices women suffer in many places, while also using her work as a hopeful counterweight against such oppression.
Shehzil creates art with a strong message that we want to share with you today on International Women’s Day. Her work encourages women to be who they want, and the visual aspects of her work benefit this message greatly.
Visuals that represent who you are or aspire to be are so important – it changes how you perceive yourself… which ends up changing how the world perceives you. I would have loved to have grown up with badass women of colour as role models – it would have made me realise earlier that I am capable of so much more than the Pakistani conventions I was raised with. After all, if you didn’t see a brown badass female superhero growing up, how’d you know if it were possible?
She painted her superheroine as a reaction to the feeling of being held captive by arbitrarily imposed rules and curfews. She has no interest in living a predetermined life. “I can and I will disregard that. This picture tells the women around me ‘You be you, honey’”.
She was out to provide women with new role models for a self-determined life, figures who are strong and powerful, “tough as nails”. The Pakistani superheroine who has appeared again and again in her art was born.
Ethletic designer Johanna Balzer met Shehzil in Lahore. An acknowledged art director and university lecturer at the Beaconhouse National University’s School of Visual Arts & Design, Shehzil joined Johanna for a visit to a crafts exhibition in the city. “We talked about traditional hand-painted shoes, about organic body oil a friend of Shehzil’s buys from Pakistani farmers for her start-up company Charu, and about what it means to live and work in Lahore”, Jo says in recalling their first meeting. Later on during coffee with friends the idea was born for a cooperation using one of Shehzil’s pieces as an all-over print for an Ethletic sneaker limited edition of only 100. Johanna remembers, “We decided on her animation called ‘The Living Dead’”, a bombastic explosion of colours, and a highly emotional work. Shehzil explains:
I had had this image in mind for a while, years perhaps, of how I actively avoid the news and violence around me. I’ve struggled with the thought of studying and working as a designer/artist in a place as volatile as Pakistan. By the time I finished animating this, the churches in Youhanabad had been attacked. And I had drawn pink skulls. I don’t think there are ever easy answers.
No simple answers, and yet so many possibilities for making things happen. Shehzil can see every day on her social media that things really are happening. She recently told a magazine that she loves the idea of our shared humanity, of an emerging awareness that none of our identities are rooted solely in our geographical history. She closes by posing the question, “Can’t we simply accept everything that makes us strong and makes us ourselves – as women and as human beings?”
Text: Annika Langhagel
Translation: John Jeffrey Collier