Drawing/designing for social change

Artist Shehzil Malik not only makes Noor Jehan look like a rockstar, but also aspires to bring social change via her art

Drawing/designing for social change

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist/ illustrator?

I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember. So, yes! When the time came to go to university, art school was a no-brainer.

What made you come up with the idea of drawing/designing for social change?

Actually, design for social change is a field in itself now. There are processes that allow designers to tackle social problems with empathy and inclusion. Through my work, over the years, I’ve been figuring out how art and design can create a difference and this has changed as I evolve what I consider social impact.

Why is design for social change so close to your heart?

On a personal level, I am happiest when I’m drawing, but I also feel that being Pakistani means that it’s hard to ignore the many problems around us. By expressing myself or highlighting some issue through my work, in some small way, I feel like I’m doing my part.

What projects have you worked on that are directed towards social change?

I started my first job by designing for UthOye!: a cause-based clothing company. I often do collaborative projects with companies that share these values. This includes setting up an online store for Behbud’s women artisans, designing for Rabtt, branding and merchandise for Leisure Club’s Made of Pakistan initiative, a blood donation app for Ogilvy & Mather, and recently research and branding for Charu - an enterprise that ethically sources the purest traditional produce. I am now focusing on illustration that deals with subjects close to my heart: women’s rights, feminism, identity, perceptions of beauty and Pakistani visual culture.

What have you accomplished so far?

That’s difficult to say! I consider it an accomplishment if something I design or write makes someone feel better and understood. There really aren’t enough visual representations of what it means to be young in Pakistan and that drives me to try to create that space.

Where have you exhibited your work?

My work has been exhibited at the Rounds per Minute exhibit curated by Salt Arts at the Southbank Centre in London, and at the Fearlessly Frida Global Art Tour.

How would you describe your style?

A friend once described style as what you do when you’re free from the thought of having a style. You just do what feels natural without considering what box or label you fall under, and this approach really resonates with me.

What is your favourite piece and why?

I don’t have a favourite, but the most emotional was the mural on religious tolerance my friends and family came together to paint at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park. That has meant the most to me.

Do you ever have an artistic block? How do you overcome it?

I don’t consider it an artistic block if I’m not creating art. I’m generally curious and try to push myself by doing something new. Feeling uncomfortable and learning new things ends up manifesting itself in the art anyway. These days I’ve been working on my online print shop, which has been a crash course in entrepreneurship!

What is your go-to place for inspiration?

On a daily basis it has to be Instagram. I collect images and words that inspire me like nobody’s business! Otherwise when I travel locally I take pictures of what I see - the flora and fauna, architecture and craft - and use them as motifs in my work.

Who are some of the artists that inspire you?

There are so many! Frida Kahlo, Yuko Shimizu, Malika Favre, Tomer and Asaf Hanuka, Shirin Neshat, Jessica Walsh, Shepard Fairey, Shilo Shiv Suleman, James Jean, the list goes on! Locally we have an emerging design/illustration field with talents like Babrus Khan, Samya Arif, Ayesha Haroon, Hamza Tariq, Rahim Yar Khan alongside many design students I come across, their take on art is always inspiring.

How important is it to experience other cultures as an artist?

I think it’s potentially life changing for all people. If you have the opportunity to experience the unfamiliar, it can force you to think outside your default setting. It is the most meaningful way to realize that there are so many ways to experience life.

If you could make a portrait of anyone, who would it be and why?

I can’t think of a public figure I’d love to draw. I’m more inspired by the women I see around me. I look up to them as they run households and businesses; tackle motherhood and societal expectations and these are the women I have in mind when I draw.

How has your art changed you?

I don’t know who I’d be if I didn’t have art in my life. I draw from my experience and putting an image out there helps me to process the event that prompted the drawing and sometimes even changes the way I feel about it in the end.

What is the funniest experience you’ve had with a client?

There have been so many, but one that sticks out is when I designed a website and the client said that it looked like something he could’ve made in Microsoft Word! (Laughs)

What advice would you give to a younger you?

I’d tell her that it’s okay to be different and emotional and feel like you don’t have all the answers. And that it’s OK to fail and make mistakes because that’s the only way you grow. And also that nobody has it all figured out, we’re all making it up and learning as we get older. Basically I’d give her a lecture and a hug, both of which she would not appreciate!

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I like the unpredictability of not knowing where I’ll be in five years. I hope that whatever I’m doing, I’m living in the present with peace of mind.