Young and spirited

December 3, 2023

The self-trained teenage artist is deeply inspired by Frida Kahlo

Young and spirited


pogmay, an 18-year-old Peshawar-based girl, has learnt the art of painting and several crafts on her own, with some help from the internet.

Spogmay says she feels that she was born with an innate love for colours and canvas. While studying at a local private school in Gulbahar, Peshawar, she would sketch, draw and colour.

At that time, however, she didn’t know much about the intricate world of arts and the many forms in which artists express their ideas. At her school, whenever there was a function or celebration, everyone, including her teachers, would expect her to help with the decor. “I helped excitedly,” she says. “I used to draw and paint in my dreams. I still do,” she adds.

Her words remind one of the engineer-turned-calligrapher and painter, Ismail Gulgee, who once expressed, “I live only when I paint.”

A smartphone changed Spogmay’s life. Her mother bought her the phone with an internet connection. Since then she has used the tool to learn more about painting. It has also allowed her to connect with the world of arts and ideas. Using the cellphone, she learns about art exhibitions. She also sells her work online.

Two years ago, while in the 10th grade, she learnt about an art competition at the Bacha Khan Markaz in Peshawar. She told her mother that she wanted to take part in the competition. Her parents agreed. Spogmay went to the competition with her mother, carrying a few water colour paintings she had made at home.

She says being young and inexperienced, she felt under great pressure. Most of the artists invited to the competition were trained men. “This was the first time she was participating in a competition where her work would be judged. Also, she was the only girl there. At 16, she had learn to stand in front of people and participate,” her mother recalls.

“The guests included dignitaries like Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and Aimal Wali Khan, but I didn’t know at the time who these men were,” says Spogmay.

“I am a girl from a low-income background. My parents cannot afford to send me to another city. I wish we had proper art schools in all major cities, including Peshawar,” says Spogmay.

At this competition, the artists were asked to make a portrait of poet Ghani Khan. She coloured the background green. When the judges asked her why she had painted the background green considering the poet was often associated with the colour red, she answered, “I don’t know much about it.” Still her painting was judged good enough for a Rs 2,000 prize.

Having done well at a competition and received a mobile phone, Spogmay expanded the range of her themes, moving from still life to portraits of famous people and paintings with ideas that challenge socio-cultural norms, political repression and gender discrimination.

In a painting representing the women of Afghanistan, all women are clad in the traditional Afghan burqa, except one whose face is visible. In another picture, small, fearful children peep through a military uniform with a Kashmiri flag in their hands.

Despite receiving appreciation from strangers online, she has had a difficult time convincing her family that she should pursue more opprtunities.

“At an exhibition arranged by the Dosti Welfare Organisation at the University of Peshawar during the Dosti Peshawar Literature Festival last winter, I was the only person who displayed paintings. Yet, over the five days, not even a single painting was sold although many girls and boys took selfies with the paintings and said those were beautiful.

“I am finding it difficult to buy the materials I need for my work,” she says.

“It was my dream to study at the National College of Arts in Lahore and become a great painter. Frida Kahlo is one of my inspirations.”

“I am a girl from a low-income background. My parents cannot afford to send me to another city. I wish we had great art schools in all cities, including Peshawar,” says Spogmay.

“Spogmay means the moon in Pashto. I want my daughter to shine as bright,” says her mother.

The writer, a Peshawar-based student, has a background in English literature, history and politics. He can be reached at

Young and spirited