The first thing one notices about Muniba Khurram, 26, is her radiant smile and lively persona. Friendly and forthcoming, she is out to make a statement that physically-challenged people can lead perfectly contented lives. She is mindful of dressing up, going shopping and socialising with friends like any regular, modern woman in her place would.
“The day I sat on a wheelchair, I was a different person,” said Khurram, who was rendered paraplegic in a car crash on the way to her hometown in Quetta with her husband about six years back. As a result, she sustained multiple injuries.
But what transformed her was the spinal cord injury; three vertebrae were crushed, paralysing her waist down. According to Khurram, the life-altering incident gave her a renewed sense of self and what she could do with what she still had.
For her, art became a cathartic outlet from the gloomy hospital where she underwent multiple surgeries for two months. Even when she could not properly hold anything in a deformed hand, she was painting. “I needed an escape as I’d gotten tired of wearing the white scrubs and staring at the bland, white walls in the hospital. I needed colour in my life again,” said Khurram.
She had barely finished freshman year at a national art school when she was refused permission to pursue the remaining degree owing to her medical issues. “When I couldn’t get admission as a regular or a private student, I took it in my stride and the more I worked, the more I learnt. So, I was growing,” she said.
Adamant to not let hurdles or attitudes deter her, she painted through the two years it took for her to recover physically, mentally and emotionally.
She is a mother, a content writer and a self-taught artist. As a mixed media artist, she has dabbled in acrylic on canvas, pen-and-ink and pastels on Kingston paper.
She has exhibited her artworks at the US embassy in Islamabad as well as My Art World gallery.
Feminism is a prominent theme in her work. “I focus on women because being a woman myself, that is the subject I know best,” she said, adding that the large, expressive eyes in the artworks represent hope and life.
Her subjects are often adorned with ethnic ornamentation. I just wanted to revive our traditional jewels. I’m not just promoting a strong woman of Pakistan but also ethnic jewels of the country which have faded from view, she said. Foreigners particularly, she added, are interested in her artwork which represents the country’s culture and a blend of traditionalism and modernism.
To challenge stereotypes about disability, Khurram said it is important to step out and make people realise that the obstacles that people with disabilities are facing due to lack of infrastructure in the country. Usually, she said, people don’t know how to react to a person with disability and offer sympathy instead of empathy.
“Through this injury, I’ve seen the good and the bad in those around me. I know my journey is really tough and only the tough will sustain with me,” she said.
While dealing with her situation is certainly not an easy feat, Khurram has learnt her way around. “When I paint, I come alive,” she said, adding that whining is pointless and one should never give up.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2014.