Malala Yousafzai
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Arty Fact

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Don’t worry, Malala Yousafzai didn’t actually get a face tattoo.

Shirin Neshat just painted one onto the photograph. Can you imagine this young Nobel Peace Prize winner (in fact, the #youngestever) getting inked like that? Power move, for sure. Especially when you find out that the poem written in calligraphy on her likeness is actually about how awesome she is.

This is one of two portraits of Yousafzai that the National Portrait Gallery London commissioned from badass, feminist artist Neshat - known for her video and photography work that investigates gender in her native Iran. What a slacker. Clearly these are two powerful women, so it is perfect that Neshat was the one chosen to capture girls’ education activist Yousafzai for all of posterity (no pressure). Neshat once said that “I think it is so important for young people to think about the world, the bigger picture.” Malala - who literally took a bullet in the head because of her cause - exemplifies this philosophy. When the women met in March of 2018 for the photo session, Neshat was starstruck, and took on the task of representing Malala in a dignified and intensely human manner (as if she could be anything else).

Yousafzai’s portrait is serious, but gentle. She looks out at us with a quiet but unflinching determination. In the poem written on Malala’s face (by the poet Rahman Shah Sayel from Peshawar), she is described as “determined, undefeated and strong enough in carrying out her mission.” Neshat turns this linguistic description into a visual one. The artist carefully wrote the poem in calligraphy on her printed photograph, so the spirit of the words and the image seems to come through on multiple levels - imbued from the artist’s hand.

Just to solidify that she really is better than you: after writing a book, being the youngest Nobel laureate ever (age 17), and being a literal superhero for surviving a headshot, Malala (age 21) is studying philosophy, politics, and economics at - wanna guess? - Oxford. Meanwhile, Neshat is reaching market prices of about $70,000. Not bad, ladies. Not bad at all.



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