‘Contemplating’ is the latest painting uploaded by Muniba Mazari on social media. Muniba has established herself as a mature artist by painting a dusky coloured girl with pensive eyes and a prominent chin, and infusing into the face the expressions one expects after reading the title.

Although ‘woman’ has been the subject of every painting of Muniba Mazari , Contemplating is open to a lot of interpretations, all related to the predicaments of eastern women. Almost all people with dark skin are looked down upon, but when it comes to the fair sex, brown or black colour engenders problems altogether different. One of the abominable attitudes of the society is observing a woman from head to toe before taking her into marriage, and this observation includes a pathetically exercised scrutiny of all the features of the woman and her colour as well. Either a dusky coloured woman is rejected, or if not rejected, she is made to feel sorry for it throughout her life. Ashfaq Ahmad , in his play Ajr-e-Aswad talks about a black woman whose not-very-fair baby is attributed to her in an insulting manner. However, it is not only in Pakistan where such attitudes exist, but an Indian American actress named Deepti Gupta, who is dark skinned, says in a letter:
 
“I was told that I was too dark and too fat to be considered beautiful enough to be in movies and on TV. Some of those messages even came from loved ones.” 

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 “…in America, skin colour becomes your race, your ethnicity. It’s not just that you are darker, you’re also the 'other'.  Racism has deep roots like the caste system in India… Here, white is beautiful. Not just fair skin, but white skin.”

Since Muniba’s painting depicts a woman wearing jewellery of an eastern style, one is inclined to think if the woman is contemplating her dark skin, thinking if her life had been better with fair colour, or waiting for acceptance. People might not like this statement and oppose it by saying that ‘acceptance’ is no more a concern for the modern woman, but the bitter truth is that ‘acceptance’ is inculcated into the minds of Pakistani women to such an extent that if, owing to some reason, they do not get married, they either consider themselves worthless or acquire a disagreeable temperament, which is then associated with their ‘single’ status as depicted in the Pakistani telefilm Ab Tum Jaa Saktay Ho.

Keeping this interpretation of dark skin aside, if we look at Muniba’s woman as a woman only, wearing jewellery along with a gloomy expression, we are stimulated to probe into another matter related to women. No matter how miserable their married life is, women are expected to wear ornaments so that they may ‘seem’ married, and consequently, ‘happy’, since happiness of a woman in eastern society is associated with marriage only. The woman in the painting is wearing jewellery, and quite a heavy piece of it on her forehead. Above one of her ears, flowers have also been set, probably jasmines, which in this part of the world are threaded together to form a ‘gajra’ which is worn by the women, especially the ones who are newly married. She is wearing all that is required for a newly married woman, but her face seems to reveal the cruelties perpetrated by the society, which she is supposed to hide from the world by dressing up. She might be contemplating the insults hurled at her. She might be thinking of her good past spent with parents, whose unconditional love she is not able to forget. She might be thinking if her life could have been better, had she been blessed with a loving and caring partner.

The bright yellow colour in the background creates a wonderful contrast between reality and appearance. Yellow colour, in India and Pakistan, is also the colour of festivity, and in one of the functions of eastern marriages called ‘Mehndi’, yellow colour is considered ineluctable. Brides wear yellow coloured dresses. The place at which the wedding takes place is decorated using yellow and orange flowers. By looking at all the embellishments, one is made to forget what the bride might be suffering from. People are expected to keep up good hopes and forget the never-ending tradition of the maltreatment of wives, which at times, commences on the first night of the wedding, as Muniba Mazari once depicted in her painting, ‘Bed of Roses’.

A comment on Contemplating said that Muniba Mazari’s paintings depict sadness. Yes, one does think why this woman who is a motivational speaker creates pieces of art depicting gloom. Here is where ‘Art’ plays its role. If a person looks at life positively or keeps hoping for a better life and advises others to do the same, it never means that he or she is an insensitive human being whose eyes do not catch the bad acts being exercised in the society. What one does not speak out aloud, represents quietly through painting or writing, and this is what Muniba Mazari has been doing. Someone who always looks at the brighter side of things makes use of art for cathartic relief from whatever saddens her.