How one woman is celebrating powerful Pakistani women through her artwork originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com
Maliha Abidi is writing a fairy tale. A fairy tale, she says, that is entirely made up of true stories.
She's the author and artist behind the book "Pakistan for Women," a book that is a compilation of vibrant portraits of notable Pakistani women.
Her portraits include women like activist Malala Yousafzai, singer Noor Jehan, activist Asma Jahangir, and Ayesha Farooq, Pakistan's first female fighter pilot.
"My style consists of illustrating women either to celebrate their achievements, or to focus on women empowerment, or to highlight a story, or to talk about an issue that needs our attention," Abidi, 23, told "GMA."
Abidi is originally from Karachi, Pakistan and currently resides in the United Kingdom. She's a full-time medical neuroscience student at the University of Sussex and has been an artist all her life. She first started posting her artwork on social media in 2012 and received positive reactions. Now, she has close to 49,000 followers on Instagram.
While her past work consists of portraits of different women from all over the world, Abidi knew she wanted to create an extensive series on women from her home country who aren't typically highlighted in the media.
"There are a lot of problems in Pakistan and we do have a long way to go but there are some amazing stories as well," she said. "Just because the media is showcasing one side of the story, only the negative side, that doesn't mean that us as people shouldn't highlight the positive stories."
She wants people outside of Pakistan to know that there's a lot of good that comes out of the country. And for those who reside in Pakistan, especially women, she wants to tell them there are many opportunities to achieve dreams.
Her proof? The number of women she's highlighted on her Instagram and in her new book, whom have tackled many challenges.
Abidi first started the project by creating a list of notable Pakistani women. Without any research, her list included more than 80 names -- which she still adds to today.
She draws portraits of women and posts them to Instagram where she accompanies each one with a long caption detailing that woman's story.
"When we're illustrating real people, especially legends, I feel like there's a responsibility." Abidi said. "I need to do justice to that illustration and to their legacy."
Some of the women she's featured in her book are even connected to each other such as activist Veeru Kohli who escaped modern day slavery from a remote village in Pakistan. When she reached the police, they advised her to connect with Pakistan's Human Rights Commission, started by another woman named Asma Jahangir, a human rights lawyer. With the help of the Human Rights Commission, Kohli was able to save thousands of people from modern day slavery in Pakistan.
"Pakistan for Women" is entirely self-funded and self-published, down to the art supplies she purchased at an art store she worked at previously. It wasn't an easy process creating the art and publishing the book, she said, but Abidi was motivated to reach her goal with a strong support system including her husband and her father.
"I have seen her work on the book from the beginning and in the start, I didn't know what kind of impact it will have but I am amazed to see her work being appreciated by adults as well as children," her husband Askari Hassan said.
Abidi's main purpose for turning her work into a book was so that people who didn't have access to social media would be able to see what Pakistani women have achieved in a physical copy. She is also in the process of donating books to libraries and schools in underprivileged communities in Pakistan so young girls there know that they can dream big. Her Kickstarter, which she learned about from watching "Shark Tank," is helping her reach her goal.
There's a lot more in store for Abidi's artwork. She told "GMA" that she is working on her next book that will feature 100 women of color from more than 25 countries.
"There are nearly 200 countries in this world and if it was humanly possible for me to illustrate every single inspirational woman out there, every single strong story of a woman I come across, I would do that."