Shireen Ahmed, a kind friend and talented writer, wrote a beautiful article about the Bullets to Butterflies show, that I would like to share with you all. You can find more of her writing on her blog, footybedsheets – tales of a hijabi football player.
Bullets to Butterflies
by Shireen Ahmed
When I heard of the brutal attack on 14 year old student, Malala Yousufzai, on October 9th, 2012, I was shocked and horrified. Facebook, twitter and most other media outlets exploded with information and were carrying live reports and constant updates of the teenager from Swat Valley in Pakistan. She was in critical condition and initially her prognosis was not very good. Soon after she had stabilized, she was transferred to Birmingham, England for surgery and rehabilitation.
My mother hails from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and although I know of the resilience and strength in women, it was horrifying to imagine the terror Malala and her schoolmates Shazia and Kainat endured. All this on the eve of the first International Day of the Girl: how terribly ironic.
I have a daughter of my own and can’t imagine her feeling scared and intimidated by simply trying to go to school. I even wrote about how her tragedy had affected my family and made me cognizant of my safety and blessings.
After the initial incident the world started to speak out. Many different NGOs wrote articles, published reports. There were endless online petitions, many heartfelt Op-Ed pieces by some of the world’s top journalists, and much critique for the Taliban who had been blamed for this soullessness.
Through it all, there was still a call for the plight of girls’ right to education. Malala was attacked because she was an ardent supporter of girls education and spoke about how she, really wanted to be educated. Of all the articles and all the attempts to draw attention to this matter, I had the wonderful opportunity to participate in an event that really touched on the humanity and integrity of Malala’s plight.
My dear and unbelievably talented friend, Huma Durrani, was working with two other women of South Asian descent and gifted artists on an incredible art project to be shown at the Gardiner Museum in downtown Toronto. I had heard and read of Unaiza Karim’s work and had also been privy to Saba Ali ’s creativity in the past. I was very eager and thrilled to promote and attend.
Bullets to Butterflies is an amazing initiative and artistic response speaking to the obstacle that young girls face when denied access to education.
“We thought the best way to convey our horror and hope for change in this circumstance would be through visual expression. Combining traditional and modern art forms our work explores darker themes surrounding the war waged against the innocent. Through visual and written expression we hope to create a pathway to metamorphosis from bullets to butterflies.”
Not only were these artists drawing attention to violence against women but they were using their talent to generously bring a cause into the forefront. The proceeds of the event were going to be donated to DIL (Developments in Literacy) Canada; an agency that works to provide girls in Pakistan with proper education.
Being a person with no skill but much appreciation for fine art, I was unsure of what exactly would be shown at the exhibit but I was very keen to support my friends and this beautiful project.
I walked into the beautiful gallery and saw that the room was totally full. We waited for some people who were leaving and made our way into the exhibit.
There were more than 30 pieces of art in display. Including a short film documenting how Malala’s voice is challenging the system. All the pieces that were presented were important but I shall comment on a few that resonated with me.
Along the left side were some of Huma’s work that I recognized from her famous Japanese hand cut paper pieces. Immediately, one struck me.
It was a gorgeous map of Pakistan called “State of Denial”.
It is a cutwork piece depicting a literacy map of Pakistan and visually depicts the reality of Pakistan’s “literacy story” to reader.
The map is accentuated with a poignant quote from the founder of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who was a strong advocate for education. The quote is written in ink around the circumference of the map, highlighting how those words from over 60 years ago are still so relevant.
“Education is a matter of life and death for Pakistan. The world is progressing so rapidly that without the requisite advance in education, not only shall we be left behind others, but we may be wiped out altogether.”
Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1947)
In most urban centers, the upper echelon of Pakistanis have access to education. Unfortunately, the poverty stricken and the disappearing , struggling middle-classes do not have the same opportunity or access. In rural areas, the situation is far more grim. The expectations of young girls are to help fulfill family obligations and education may become secondary as a priority.
The map caught my attention because it is an incredibly beautiful piece of art while revealing staggering figures of illiteracy in young girls. Pakistan’s expenditure on Public Education is only 2.3 %, whereas India’s is 4.5%, Iran’s is 4.7% and Bhutan’s is 4.4%, and the amount of that allocated to girls is minimal.
Much work must be done to enable their access to safe and timely education.
There is an education crisis in Pakistan and because of Malala, the world is now taking note.
The Invitation “Dawat” was created by the effervescent and lovely Unaiza. Her gorgeous work speaks for itself and her capacity for brilliance is captured by her amazing skill.
It is reminiscent of a graphic novel but looks like an open book with two identical women facing each other. The woman is wearing a loose head-covering (chaddar, dupatta) with the words “Iqra” (read) in Arabic script etched into the ends of the fabric. It emphasizes how “Iqra” is a part of their identity.
The women are framed by a beautifully-detailed circle. The colours are serene, hues of blues and tones of gold; earth tones perhaps to play-off of the sparking water in the background.
The line drawings of the women, done in pen and India ink, are very fluid much like the message and the word “Iqra”. Depicts a casual and concise message.
They, much like Malala and her classmates, are not chanting loudly or aggressively but making a quiet yet decisive statement about education and its’ importance in their existence.
The most fascinating piece was an interactive wall titled “The Bullet Wall” by Saba Syed.
The process of building the Wall took the course of a few weeks. It was made up of wood panels covered in a durabond compound to give it the cement wall texture. Bullet holes were drilled during the process and it was finished with layers of paint sprayed on it to give it a more worn and weathered look.
The bullets used to amplify the effect of the piece are real shell casings gathered from a firing range. They were strewn on the ground below the wall.
It was the largest piece at the exhibit and drew every onlooker. It was an amazing piece because of its’ size but also because it was an installation piece that would could touch and feel.
The bullet wall was not only interactive but so important about reclaiming the spaces damaged by bullet holes. Spaces where there was destruction of property and violence are now injected with messages of hope and inspiration, written on paper.
One had to walk over empty shell casings and see where the bullet holes were and decide where to place their message. It required the use of touch, feel, and sight to comprehend the magnitude of the piece and the importance of its’ function: to take violence and turn it into a place of awareness and change.
The bullet wall left me and other exhibit participants with a feeling that we are contributing to the to something greater than an art showing; we were pledging to commit to a cause.
By articulating our thoughts on paper, we spread a message into the world that Violence Against Women and Girls will not be tolerated and that Girl’s education is right- not a privilege.
One of the other pieces that I adored was actually a piece that was created by the artists to present as part of the exhibit but fortunately for onlookers, also for sale, with proceeds going to DIL Canada.
The bullet-butterfly necklaces were made from bullet shell casings, and the wings were added to redefine their purpose from one of danger and pain, to one of beauty and hope.
They represent a similar transformation. Although Malala was shot, hatred did not triumph, she was not silenced – Malala’s message gained wings, took flight and reached and inspired people worldwide.
I found the necklaces to be genius in concept and very empowering. To take an item representing violence and then shape it into something so delicate and lovely truly emcompasses the vision these artists have.
We can take hold of that which tries to frighten us and deter us from good. We can seize it and beautify it with creativity and passion and re-introduce it as something wonderful to share.
Truly a cathartic experience.
Bullets to Butterflies exhibit had an aura of happiness coupled with seriousness and hope. Much love and respect for all attending and supporting the efforts of these artists through appreciation of their work.
The evening was a success and I felt very honoured to have been there.
These women are dedicated to their craft and they did mention that they went outside of their normal spheres of artwork. Huma, Unaiza and Saba are all devoted mothers and wives in addition to being talented artists. They live quite a distance away from each other.
They managed to create extraordinary pieces, and collaborated via skype and cross-city trips to pull the exhibit together so quickly.
No detailed of the exhibit was left untouched, from the detailed descriptions of the pieces, the lighting, to the butterflies on the mini cupcakes.
It was an evening filled with warmth, community and openness.
I am looking forward to witnessing what this concept grows into. And seeing how many it continues to inspire.