Despite our museums being locked up tight for Lockdown 3 we were determined to deliver a planned project with our National Portrait Gallery loan, a portrait of girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai by Iranian-born artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat . On loan from the National Portrait Gallery and commissioned with support from Outset Contemporary Art Fund, the striking image of Malala seated at a school desk is part of the COMING HOME initiative, which sees portraits from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection travel to places across the UK they are closely associated with.
Sadly, our visitors only had a few weeks to experience the portrait last year before the museum was once again closed. However, we recently took to Zoom to deliver a project with Refugee Action to enable refugee women to learn self-portraiture, inspired by this fantastic artwork and others in our collection.
Over four Saturday mornings the group, led by local artist Zoya Ahmed, explored artwork, tried their hand at watercolour, oil pastels and poetry.
The responses to Neshat’s work were moving and inspiring:
‘When I look at her, the way she looks, I can see she is a wise woman, her eyes give you hope that a woman can do something.’
‘She tried to change her reality; she went through difficult things in her life, but she tried to change her reality.’
‘We studied Malala in my classroom, we all need to stay like her. We can’t let people bully us; we need to be ourselves’. (7-year-old girl)
The final pieces shared by the group are a poignant reminder of how, in these difficult days, there is still joy to be found in learning new skills and taking on creative challenges.
‘This was the first time I have done any drawing since school, so thank you!’
Thank you to Refugee Action, our translator Rozan and our participants, Huda, Dima, Nour, Sham and Lamis for taking part.