It was a big honor for me to photograph such an inspiring young girl, the youngest who ever received the noble peace prize. Traveling to Oslo to meet and listen and photograph her was an amazing opportunity and I am quiet sure that the next Mother Teresa is raising, spreading love and calling for tolerance and education. I was not only the only woman who photographed her at the press conference, almost getting killed by dozens of press photographers,but pretty sure also the only artist who captured her. I had the feeling I made a connection to her and her friends and I would have loved to spend more time to show them my adoration for their strength.
Text by MARCELLO PISU
The 17 years old activist Malala Yousafzai was the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded last December 9 in Oslo, for advocating female education in Pakistan in spite of the threats by the Taliban, who shot her in the head on the school bus in 2012. The story attracted the world’s attention to the fight not only of this girl, but also to the tribulations of millions of girls and boys in India and everywhere in the world who don’t have access to education. Interestingly, such a powerful message of the mind over matter, hardly comes from western institutionalised “cultural” occasions like the latest Art Basel Miami, the most important art fair in the United States concluded in the same days with its usual useless report of millions spent in parties, silver wigs and objects defined by a self referential crowd of experts as art. As NY Times film critic A. O. Scott put it in his recent piece “Is Our Art Equal to the Challenges of Our Times?”, if we wanted to understand the essence of what goes on around the world not by the news, but with the “third eye” of the artists, who would we go for in film, music, photography, books? Who are the artists addressing the Big Themes of our times, rather than offering a mere distraction or a short circuit reflection on personal issues? Malala, with her young life and small figure, and her powerful writing and public speaking, represents by herself, like a living masterpiece, the main complexity, criticality and hope of our age. This is Malala’s cultural revolution in five points:
1) Culture is power.
By blogging for BBC in her Diary of a Pakistani schoolgirl about the daily fear and fight to go to school under the Taliban terrorism, she reminded to all of us that education is the strongest weapon of freedom, no rhetoric about it. How can you express yourself if you don’t know how to write and speak? How can you know your rights if you don’t know their definition? By cutting the access to knowledge, you prevent the youngest from developing intellectual confidence, simplifying the game of control and domination to physical strength and absence of any human empathy. The dumbest in the class, will always try to physically bully the smartest.
2) Girls run the world.
The Taliban terrorists made a fool of themselves in front of the world. Not only because they didn’t manage to kill a little girl with a gun on a school bus. Not only because the ones who supposedly were involved got arrested. Not only for their “apology”: ”I wished it would never have happened …the Taliban never attacked you because of going to school” but because “you were intentionally writing against them”. Malala shows us how weak the Taliban “culture” is, representing the worse degeneration of the Islam fundamentalism, but also the caricature of the idea of masculinity as a hairy dumb bunch of beasts that gathers around an idea of group that none really understands. Malala and her grace, generosity, and critical ability, shows that being feminine is the new strong.
3) Children have a voice.
When we think of children exploited in China, India, and the Third World, we shake our head feeling so civilised. As a matter of fact until the 50s in the mines all around Europe, children were exploited and often sacrificed for the sake of “progress”. Your parents or grandparents know what we are talking about: history is repeating. But there is something new, thanks to the internet children have a voice, and they are definitely going to use it. Which is really revolutionary because this helps us to redefine globally, and beyond any doubt of cultural usurpation, what the basic rights for children are. According to Malala and her campaign “See #thelast”, the right to be a child includes going to school, not being raped or getting married, not fighting in a war or be forced to work. A free childhood should be the priority for a new global society.
4) Stars can be smart.
Let’s face it, the world needs stars, role models, leaders, inspiration. Malala’s father knew it even before she was born, naming her after a Pakistani heroin who devoted her life to her people. Some say that Malala is a creation of a stuttering father with frustrated leaders ambitions: I guess we’ve been hearing too much of the Michaels, the Britneys, the Mileys and all these enfant prodige exploited by their parents for the entertainment of a nation. Malala, differently from the American model, is not saying anybody’s else words to please anybody. We don’t know whether she is going to be happy as a grown up, or if she is gonna shave her head exasperated by media, or bleach her skin indefinitely. Malala is who she is because she was allowed, and not forced, to dream, to be different, she was nourished with knowledge in order to think for herself, and serve a value bigger than a low individual interest. This is the new type of star we need.
5) Think locally, fight globally.
Malala is not chasing after Western values, she is not wearing Western clothes, or idealising the reality out of her country. On occasion of the Nobel ceremony, she addressed a clear and firm letter to the world leaders, criticising their hesitation in facing the big woes of our time with ambitious measures. Malala is proud to be from the beautiful Swat land, and by raising the problems of her region, she manages to touch global issues. By taking her friends, less famous children abused in their basic rights, to the Nobel Prize Ceremony, she is raising the voice of millions all around the world. By exposing the bloodied dress of the day she was shot in an exhibition in Oslo, she is showing the dirty hands of millions of people who abuse of children every day.