How Interdisciplinary Artist Maliha Abidi Stays Motivated And Honors Her Deeper 'Why'

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Who: Artist, Author and Women Rise NFT Founder Maliha Abidi

Web2 Maliha: Maliha is a Pakistani-American multidisciplinary artist and author living between London and Los Angeles. Born and raised in Karachi, Pakistan, she migrated to California, U.S. at the age of 14. As a South Asian immigrant, Maliha's personal experiences play a huge role in her work. Her art focuses on advocating for social justice including women’s rights, girls’ education and mental health. Using bright and bold colors, Maliha hopes to get people interested in complex issues that impact our societies. She has partnered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Instagram, Adobe and Google, among other companies and organizations. Her work has been featured on various media platforms such as Good Morning America, BBC News, NowThis Media, Malala Fund and more.

Web3 Maliha: Maliha is the founder and creator of Women Rise, a Web3 initiative with a focus on women’s rights and girls’ education. Maliha has represented Women Rise on panels at VeeCon and SXSW, among others. She was one of Instagram's chosen artists to test the app's new buy-and-sell feature, making her the first South Asian artist to drop digital collectibles on the platform. She was also part of Instagram's panel with CEO Adam Mosseri during IG creators' week.

Her TLDR: I've been very organized when it comes to my art career. I take it seriously — even when people saw it as a hobby.

Edited excerpts:

Many Web3 artists and collectors learned about you through Women Rise, but your work encompasses much more than NFTs. How do you balance your artistic style and personal mission with every project that you take on — whether it's a self-published book, a commissioned piece or NFT project?

I've been creating art professionally for such a long time that initially, some of my projects were self-initiated. I was just creating art for my community and to share myself and what's close to my heart. For example, I have three books: Pakistan For Women, Rise and Journey To America. My first book book is self-published. I remember just not being willing to wait for somebody to give me work and pay me for it. I just went out and created art that I believed in, whether I was getting paid for it or not.

So my portfolio, when other companies started to look for an artist for a specific project, already consisted of things that are close to my heart — whether talking about social justice through art, or campaigning through storytelling. And even with Women Rise, it is a self-initiated project. It's not VC-funded. So a lot of a lot of the projects were that way before I started to get paid.

But then there are projects that I have reached out to, and I also attract certain kinds of projects that reach out to me. Art directors or creative directors have a brief in mind and want to create a certain kind of work. When they come across my portfolio, they see I have something that can work because I have created art like that before.

I'm also not afraid of reaching out myself, at least before. Now I don't have the time to and I don't need to, but before I was very willing to say, 'Hey, this my portfolio. Reach out to me if you resonated with my artwork."  I have a type of mindset that is very "go out there and do what you need in order to make your ambitions or reality." mindset. Some of the most fun commissions that I have gotten have happened because of that.

I've been very organized when it comes to my art career. I take it very seriously even when it when people saw it as a hobby. I remember since 2017, my Facebook page was a certain way — because back then, Facebook was big. I wanted to make sure that I was showcasing different styles and topics that I believe in and I want to talk about.

There have been times where I reject commissions because I just don't resonate with the company or the brief. And there have been times where something pays well, but I don't want to do it. When that happens I just have a conversation about whether I can change it a little bit.

So it's not just one thing: Sometimes, they find me and think my portfolio is fitting and sometimes, there are projects that are self-initiated that add to my portfolio. It's a mix and match of different things.

How did you find the motivation to finish your early projects without knowing that someone — a client or buyer — wasn't waiting for your deadline?

Those projects were the most fun. Those projects are just so, so personal to me.

To give you an example, Pakistan for Women — my debut book — took me two years to complete. I was a full-time university student, so I was going to uni five days a week and then, on the weekends, I was going to work at an art store, which I loved because I used to get employee discount. I used my employee discount to buy products so that I could create portraits for the book.

That rigor and just having that process was so much fun. I needed that job so that I could pay for my train ticket for university. Around the same time I actually started a small business of chocolate, so I was selling these like topical strawberries, which had like really artistic element to them. I wanted to color them different colors and put different decorations on them and stuff. So there was a creative element to that as well, but of course that was about money, too. I wanted to make a little bit of side money.

I remember I used to have this blue bicycle which got stolen, which is so sad — but I used to have this blue bicycle I named her Cee Cee, and I actually used to deliver the strawberries sometimes on Cee Cee, depending on how far it was. And then I would go to the art store for my shift.

I was on a mission to make sure women's stories are represented, that the stories are out there and people are seeing these stories. And I was so tough, like I was so tough on myself because I was creating portraits of these incredibly legendary women, and I thought to myself every time I created a portrait, "You're not doing justice to how amazing this woman is."

I created each portrait at least three times, so even though you see 50 portraits in the book I created a 150 portraits. There were times where I was like, "Oh, really, I can't do this anymore. The research, the process of it all is just so much. There was not a lot of material out there about these women to use for research. It was a very intensive process and there were times where I was like, "I can't do this anymore."

And then I would get on a call with one of the women in the book and just listen to her sharing her struggles and her successes and her life story story and I was like, "Well this is why you're doing this you know, to make sure that this is out there and a little girl or somewhere or a woman from Pakistan or somewhere else even would see it and feel inspired."

At the same time, I didn't think anybody would care for the book. But I ended up shipping that book to more than 60 countries. I thought maybe the only interest would come from Pakistani people, but it was people from places like Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, India and, of course Pakistan and Pakistanis like outside Canada, the U.S., the U.K. — you name it.

Then I received a message from a young girl named Aisha and she was in Australia. She said her father was going to Pakistan and she asked him to get my book from a bookstore there. She said, "After reading the book, I felt very proud of being Pakistani." She was 13 or 14 years old, I think. She said before that, she used to feel ashamed because of the way Pakistanis are portrayed in the media.

So, you know, the fact that I was able to make her feel a little bit closer to our heritage, you need to remember that's the reward. Right? There are times that I have felt artist block and burnout and all of those things, but it's never because the art is too much or that I don't know how to move forward.

Creativity comes from somewhere really, really personal. So give yourself time to rejuvenate. I think that can do wonders for the creative process.

Who has made you feel seen in your life? Who has made you feel proud?

There have been like different people at different times, and for different reasons. My father is my role model. Just the way he has led his life is really inspiring to me. My husband is also amazing and he's somebody who inspires me too. But also, my grandmother — she she passed away because of cancer, but during her life, the way she led it, the way she was contributing to her community, the way she was about her family. She took care of things with such grace. I think that's really inspiring to me.

In most recent times, the show, Miss Marvel — just having that such a strong and positive representation of a Pakistani-American super hero in Hollywood is so amazing because historically we have seen Muslims very negative roles. To have a super hero that's a brown girl from Pakistan, who is Muslim — I think that's so incredible.

I also feel seen when I see Pakistan and South Asia being represented on a global scale. I feel so proud and I feel so inspired. There's a song called Pasoori. It's one of the biggest songs of the year. It was released 11 months ago and has like 500 million views. It's from [the TV program] Coke Studio Pakistan and it's by Pakistani musicians [Ali Sethi and Shae Gill]. It's a very beautiful song, and it has translation and everything. But what's funny about this is that if you look at the video at a certain timestamp, they have my art in the background!

Source: YouTube

It's kind of hidden and the main focus is, of course, the singers and the performers. But it was so funny to see this! This is the biggest song, and they resonated with my art in a way that they wanted to have it in the background, just to add to the vibe of it. And it's just really cool to me. I'm a huge fan of Coke Studio Pakistan. Like, if you were to ask me the names of the songs that I listen to, this is what I would recommend. So it's just, it's cool.

Megan DeMatteo is BFF’s Guest Editor.

This article and all the information in it does not constitute financial advice. If you don’t want to invest money or time in Web3, you don’t have to. As always: Do your own research.

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