Catharsis: Challenging stereotypes of disability through art

An artist who did not let her disability define her life is representing hope and life.

Maryam Usman June 24, 2014


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.

Facebook Conversations


Abuzar | 5 years ago | Reply | Recommend

You are THE beautiful Soul -

sameer | 6 years ago | Reply | Recommend

very nice one muniba and I am your very big fan and must say May Allah keeps you smiling always..

But a few things more.. I met the lady a couple of times and seriously no offense readers but the lady has always been found in a group of elite class people, high class society and gatherings of Islamabad and have always been surrounded by and being friendly with famous people bureaucrats, politicians, celebrities and icons.

She speaks in a very formal and crisp way with middle class people. If you ask for contact details or want to be on friendly terms (remember by friend means just a friend whom u can take as a 'Role Model' or 'A source of inspiration'), I am sorry you will never get any response.

I always wonder why do people belonging to the E's and F's of Islamabad are like this. We middle class people have more issues and are facing crisis of such extreme that nobody can imagine. The difference is we are neither rich nor famous, live in lower middle class areas of Rawalpindi and spend our daily / monthly livings on pensions and salaries less than 30K. The ambassadors do not invite us for having lunch with them. Also magazines and TV channels do not give us coverage, nor do the NGOs being run by richie rich people of Islamabad supports us. Since our issues have never been highlighted by press and media that is why we can never be the 'Source of inspiration' for others.

It is very easy to debate and talk while sitting in a lavishly furnished cafe or bungalow worth so many crores, going to centaurus mall in ur luxury car and get so much attention. Live a day like us and you will find that we are facing more challenging situation. Though not 'Physically Challenged' but also emotionally, socially, mentally and psychologically.

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