As a child, Benguluru-based Monisha Miriam loved to draw and read superhero comics. At 27, she has the ultimate validation for passions: her rendition of Wonder Woman was selected by the Warner Bros in October for a traveling exhibition celebrating Wonder Woman's 75 years in comics.
And the feminist in Monisha is delighted, for a few days before the selection, Wonder Woman was appointed the UN Honorary Ambassador for Empowerment of Women and Girls.
It all began when Monisha, a concept artist in a gaming company, began experimenting with comic art about a year ago. She posted her Wonder Woman drawing on the Warner Bros website in September as fan art. To her surprise, it was selected to be featured at the New York Comic Con in November.
â€śI got a call four days before the Comic Con saying they wanted to feature my artwork there. I was very happy but couldnâ€™t go there on such short notice,â€ť Monisha recalls.
It was at the Comic Con that Warner Bros decided to include her artwork in the traveling exhibition, which was also featured at the UN. Both Warner Bros and DC Comics and backing the UN's campaign for Empowerment of Women and Girls.
Monisha says that her unexpected recognition overseas â€śblew her mindâ€ť, especially when Gal Gadot, the Israeli actor playing the lead in the 2017 Wonder Woman film, posted a video featuring seven art pieces, including hers.
However, her initial elation was somewhat marred when 50 UN staffers and many others protested against the appointment of a â€śsexualised cartoon characterâ€ť as a symbol of women's empowerment. One of the arguments was that the honorary ambassador must be a more real and less-sexualised, especially at a time when real women are fighting against sexual exploitation and abuse, reported ABC News.
But Monisha does not agree. â€śShe may be a white, sexualised character, but I donâ€™t see her because of her blue eyes or physical portrayal. She is a symbol of female power and thatâ€™s what we should see her for, not what she wears or looks likeâ€ť, she argues. She observes that the sexualised avatar is the creation a generation of artists who are predominantly male, but that need not limit her character.
While Monisha affirms there are real-life women who can serve as role models for womenâ€™s empowerment, Wonder Womanâ€™s evolution in the comics is much more than her sex appeal:
â€śAn Amazonian warrior princess, comfortable in her own skin, who becomes the ambassador of peace has indeed changed my own perceptions of what it means to be a woman. How can a woman bring peace to a world which is hellbent on attacking her gender? How does she fit in where she doesnâ€™t belong? How does she live her life without conforming to the social norm of getting married and becoming a baby factory?â€ť
Monisha's rendition of Wonder Woman
The character holds a special place for Monisha in her own journey too. In a professional space which is dominated by men, Monisha notices how women are either put on a pedestal or dumbed down â€“ a representation she has always been bothered by.
â€śSo, I have always needed someone strong to look up to. Wonder Woman was the only female character in the Justice League and it inspired my geek self,â€ť she laughs. In power dynamics, respect sometimes stems from fear, something her character capitalizes on, Monisha observes.
In real life however, she says that her grandmother has been the true Wonder Woman of her life: â€śGrandma always encouraged me to do what I wanted and never let my gender identity get in the way. In fact, when I got my license at 18, she pushed me to get a gear bike! Given a chance, I think she could have made much better use of the liberties that I have now. She was a woman way ahead of her times.â€ť
Monisha hopes that Wonder Woman being chosen as the UN ambassador will give girls all over the world a strong female character to look up to. However, we need not look further than ourselves for strength: â€śWe all have a Wonder Woman within us. We need to just look for her and embrace her.â€ť
(Edited by Geetika Mantri)