One day, Rashida Begum (name changed) told her friend Fathima Hakkim that she had a secret to reveal. Rashida spoke about being molested by her uncle when she was five years old. “My uncle said if I told anybody about it, my parents would get hurt,” said Rashida, who grew up with Fathima at Kollam in Kerala. “I kept quiet for 18 years. It made me a very lonely person. I was scared to talk to anybody.”
A shocked Fathima could not sleep that night. Instead, she drew a painting of a girl with dishevelled hair cascading all over her face, one troubled eye staring blankly at the world. On her lips was a butterfly, similar to the Silence of the Lambs film poster—a butterfly resting on Jodie Foster’s lips.
“I was deeply upset by Rashida’s experience,” says 24-year-old Fathima. “Many women go through similar things.”
This unnamed painting was on display at Fathima’s ‘Aurora’ exhibition held recently at the Durbar Hall art gallery in Kochi. There were 26 other paintings, which included watercolours and acrylic on canvas.
One is of a naked girl, arms outstretched in agony, being invaded by a shoal of small fish. The image was prompted by an incident at a bus stop in Kollam. “A man in his 30s kept staring at me for a long time,” says Fathima. “He had eyes like a fish: unblinking, cold and lecherous. I felt frustrated. Later, I drew several fish that ring my body like the eyes of many men.” Other themes included the complicated man-woman relationship, the mocking comments that are reserved for fat women, the joy of being in love and the beauty of the Aurora constellation.
Her installation works, such as paper boats hanging from the ceiling with thin white strings, an old Brother typewriter, yellow Indian postcards, cumin seed candy and circassian seeds, are on display. “I wanted to recreate everything from the 90s since I am a 90s child,” she says.
It was Fathima’s first solo exhibition, and the journey hasn’t been easy for this trained architect.
Members of her community questioned her need for a public exhibition and show her face. “They said my face is irrelevant. I don’t agree with them. My face and personality make me a unique person,” she says. Her parents—homeopathic doctor Abdul Hakkim and mother Haneesa, an economics professor—dropped their opposition when they saw the exhibition. “They understood my passion for art,” says Fathima.
Her passion for painting begun in her childhood. An introverted child with dyslexia, she would sit and draw all the time. “I got rid of bad happenings around me by painting them,” she says. The end result is a bright debut for a shining talent.