National Portrait Gallery unveils Malala Yousafzai picture

Nobel prize winner says she hopes portrait will remind people of girls’ fight for change

Malala Yousafzai has expressed hope that a new portrait of her unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery will remind visitors that girls across the world are fighting for change.

The gallery on Tuesday revealed one of two portraits of Yousafzai, an activist for girls’ education and the youngest Nobel prize winner. One has gone on display in London, while the other will travel in 2020 to Yousafzai’s adopted home city of Birmingham.

Both are photographs by the Iranian-born artist and film-maker Shirin Neshat, on to which she has inscribed by hand in calligraphy a poem, in Yousafzai’s honour, by the Pashtu poet Rahmat Shah Sayel.

Yousafzai said she was honoured that her portrait would hang alongside those of “some of Britain’s most influential writers, artists and leaders”.

She added: “I hope it will remind visitors that girls everywhere are fighting for change in their communities and countries – their stories must also be heard.”

Yousafzai first came to prominence in 2009 when she wrote about her life during the Taliban occupation of her home in Pakistan’s Swat valley and the ban on girls’ education. In 2012, aged 15, she was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman who boarded her school bus and asked: “Who is Malala?”

She recovered in Birmingham, where she and her family chose to remain, and has continued campaigning. In 2013, Yousafzai was awarded the International Children’s Peace prize and co-founded the Malala fund to champion the right of every girl to 12 years of free, safe, quality education. In 2014, she received the Nobel peace prize with the Indian children’s rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi.

Now 21, Yousafzai is studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.

Neshat said at first she felt intimidated by the scale of Yousafzai’s achievements. “Yet as she arrived at the studio to be photographed,” she said, “I was immediately taken aback by her timid, gentle and innocent demeanour. To this day, when I look back on our encounter, I am left with impressions of humility, wisdom and a rare sense of inner beauty.”

The second portrait of Yousafzai, sitting at a school desk with an open book, will be unveiled at Birmingham Museums in 2020, part of the National Portrait Gallery’s Coming Home initiative, in which 50 portraits from the national collection will go on display in the places with which they are most closely associated.

Contributor

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

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