What 17-year-old artist Maliha Abbas has accomplished

Published: August 5, 2013

Maliha Abbas, 17, wants to promote Pakistani culture to the world, teach art and work as an artist without going to art school. PHOTO: Jamaluddin.

Art is what gives a society its soul. It creates a shared communal feeling and transcends borders, classes and religions. If art gives society its soul, it’s the artists who give art its soul. The way they interpret things and put them on the canvas encourages discussion and forces us to reflect.

Maliha Abbas Abidi is one such artist whose works inspire reflection. Not only that, she also wants to promote Pakistani culture to the world, teach art to students and be an artist, without entering an art academy. She also recently gave a TEDx talk in Karachi.

And she is only 17.

I caught up with Maliha recently and we talked about her works and achievements.

Talking about herself she said:

“I am a person that tries to grab every opportunity that knocks on my door. I want to try everything in life. I am a self-taught artist mainly. I am an art teacher and a youth director of a drug abuse company in USA.”

At such a young age, it is indeed impressive.

Explaining further about her experience as an art teacher she says:

“I started teaching at the age of fifteen. I teach at a public library in USA. The librarian offered me the job herself after looking at my work.”

When discussing her ambitions she said:

“I want to become a well-known artist just without going to an art school. Spending four years in an art school can teach art to even a monkey. I want to learn it all on my own. I want to be my own teacher. I believe no one needs a teacher because everything is invented by someone who didn’t have a teacher to start with.”

I mentioned how she herself is an art teacher at such a young age. Not exactly, she explained:

“I let my students explore art themselves and I only help where needed. I want to give teaching a new face.”

Remembering her first art exhibition, she said that she had her first solo art exhibition at the age of 16 in San Diego, California;

 “On the first day more than 200 people showed up – which was amazing!”

She likes globetrotting and selling her art works to pay for travel and living expenses. And she travels alone.

When asked about her TEDx talk she said:

“TEDx talk experience was amazing – I cannot describe it in words. Great response, appreciative crowd and an awesome TEDx team. I talked about my achievements at the age of 17 and that I’m not like other teens. I’m not a book worm but I’m good at school, I am not a party animal but I have friends and a social life. I said that we should never give up on our dreams like I never will and I shared that I have tried many things but not everything”.

She also has a goal before she turns 18 this November.

“I want to do something for my country. I know many people from around the globe who think of Pakistan as desert village. So now I want to do an exhibition in USA to show the beautiful culture of Pakistan. I also want to display the modern side of Pakistan through the canvas”.

For young Pakistani artists Maliha advised:

“Listen to your heart. Paint what you feel like and for the all people who think they can’t paint, try it at least once because there is an artist in all of us. And never give up on your dreams.”

Achievements of Pakistanis like Maliha must be highlighted, because they are the face of Pakistan. In the daily avalanche of bad news, we should also see what young Pakistanis like Maliha Abbas are achieving and how they are trying to promote a softer, more moderate image of Pakistan.

There are many others like Maliha. Their inspirational stories must be brought to the fore.



A student of Information Systems Management at Latrobe University, Melbourne. He tweets @Einsjam (twitter.com/Einsjam)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    Ambitious and talented girl …………………I can’t put my finger on it but something about the article does not ring right.

  • Timmy K

    Wow so much good stuff. She is talented and seems to be working round the clock. Amazing human being. Good work by the interviewer too.Recommend

  • Alex Cross

    nice artwork ! I would pay to visit her art exhibitions. such people from third world countries should be promoted so that the world knows that its just not about extremism and terrorism that these countries are known for.Recommend

  • Hannan

    She gave a Ted talk at 17. I could do that when I was 12. In my dreams.Recommend

  • Sana Naz

    “Achievements of Pakistanis like Maliha must be highlighted, because they are the face of Pakistan”

    Indeed ! Totally agree with the author.Recommend

  • hasan

    What a gem !Recommend

  • Yaba Daba Doo

    So she is from USA that’s why she gets promoted. Big deal. her parents can afford to put up with her international traveling. I don’t see the author interviewing Pakistan born poor artists, who really deserve recognition.Recommend

  • zeeshan

    @Alex Cross : Pakistan a third world country ?? Mister do you know you are insulting our country?Recommend

  • Mehdi


    Yes it is categorized as third world countries. He is correct.Recommend

  • Taimoor

    @zeeshan: No water, no electricity, high inflation, high corruption, no schools, terrorism, extremism, no sewerage system for current floods etc etc etc. Oh yeah we are a first world country! Open your eyes, don’t be emotional when someone tells you the truth about your country! Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com Kashif Ajmal Malik

    Lovely work. Problem is lack of promotion at local level. West overall has ability to look after their talent where we just try to get only 16 years education and our system of education ruin our talent. We really need to improve the sense of practical and professional education AND YES WITH ALL CAPS ON… Government can not do that, we have to form local organization for talent hunt and professional sensibility development. Recommend

  • Gp65

    Impressive art. Impressive girl. Wish her success.Recommend

  • Gp65

    @Yaba Daba Doo: Did you not read that she pays for her travel by selling her artwork not by asking Daddy dear to shell out cash? How many kids living in US get to give a TED talk? Is her talent, motivation, drive and effort to be downplayed simply because she is fortunate enough to have parents living in US? Yes she has more opportunity than most kids in India and Pakistan would have. But she deserves all credit for making the most of the opportunity she was given.

    @Kashif Ajmal Malik:
    Agree. Not everything can be left to the government. Talent shows on Indian TV has brought recognition and success for many very talented people from poor and middle class families. A similar approach might benefit Pakistanis as well. Something to consider.Recommend

  • Khurram Aftab

    I always Appreciate this girls , becuase she has been make outstanding Art .. Nice Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com Kashif Ajmal Malik

    @Gp65: You know I have come accross many Pakistanis in the UAE including Rumaisa Mohani, Babaruddin Siddiqui of e-aid program, Ali Raza Randhawa for Bio gas energy solution, and many more who won international awards but didnt get any recognition in Pakistan because our focus is not on talent hunt and thus benefiting our country. Surprisingly nobody cares about initiatives for youth innovations, opportunities development, resource stabilization and accommodation for Human resources, alternate ways of energy production and so much but what … haha… calling each other with shameful names, discussing celebrities and wasting time on everything else. Seriously lets do something together because no one will help us. Lets bring the talent back, invest in our country and make it prosperous. Recommend

  • Ali S


    You’re right. Pakistan is a fourth world country.Recommend