Permanent recognition from adopted home city for girl who shared Nobel Peace Prize.
A statue of educational campaigner Malala Yousafzai is to be placed in Birmingham’s Centenary Square. Pakistan-born Yusafzai (20) came to the city for emergency medical treatment after being shot by Taliban insurgents in 2012, subsequently making Birmingham her home and continuing her education at Edgbaston High School for Girls before moving last autumn to study politics and philosophy at Oxford.
The 12ft high statue – titled I Am Malala – will be located outside the main entrance to the Library of Birmingham. Youfsafzai opened the loss-making facility back in 2013 with her famous “One Child, One Teacher, One Book” quote, regarded by senior figures in the city as Birmingham’s equivalent to Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The statue, cast in the city’s world famous Jewellery Quarter from bronze and hand finished in brushed gold leaf, will depict Malala ‘with arms outstretched in readiness to receive the children of Mother Earth before clasping them to her bosom.’
Welcoming the announcement, a council spokesman said: “We Broomies – as Malala once endearingly described herself – are delighted that Ms. Youfsafzai chose to stay and make Birmingham her home following the attack. She is a larger than life character so it is entirely appropriate that her statue will be too. We look up to Malala anyway and now that she is following in the footsteps of so many other famous and successful Birmingham residents in leaving the city we will be able to continue looking up to her every day.”
A member of the Birmingham business community added: “Opinion polls show that the statue Brummies most want to see is that of King Kong, but when repeated efforts by the city to bring back the ever popular fibreglass ape failed we instead focused on erecting a monument to Malala. She seemed such a perfect alternative and a great fit for the chosen location.
“The vast majority of Birmingham’s statues are of elderly white, bearded males. Malala is neither elderly, white nor male and her status as a young BME woman makes her a totally statue-ready candidate in what is incontestably Europe’s youngest and most diverse city.”
Sculptor Ben Creswick explained that he has tried to bring out Malala’s feisty side: “She sat for me several times over a four week period and I can honestly say that despite her global fame, nothing has gone to her head. But she had strong ideas how she wanted this to look and I hope that I’ve reflected that. She’s a gobby kid, but in a nice kind of way, and she’s never knowingly undersold, so it seemed very natural that she appears to be proselytising, urging her peers to go forth and seek knowledge.
“The grasping, tiny hands of those children appear at the base, rising up from the plinth to touch Malala, albeit in a very non-sexual way. seeking inspiration, hoping that a bit of that Malala magic might rub off.”
Speaking ahead of her recent visit to Pakistan Yousafzai said: “I hope that both the people of Birmingham and visitors to the city come to see me in Centenary Square, take selfies with my statue and find both fulfilment and inspiration from these experiences.”
The £40,000 cost of the statue is being met by the Malala Fund, which Yousafzai helped establish. However a contactless card facility placed on the rear of the statue will allow the public to make their own financial contributions to the Fund. The Malala artwork will form the centrepiece of Centenary Square, currently undergoing a £10 million revamp. Unveiling is expected in late summer although it is unclear whether the lady herself will be available to attend as she has an extensive programme of overseas speaking engagements booked to promote both the Fund and its high profile figurehead.
Public reaction in Birmingham city centre to today’s news was overwhelmingly positive: “This will really put Birmingham on the map”, said Karl Whitehorne, a personal shopper from Wylde Green. “About time too”, remarked Ibrahim Sandhu of Selly Oak, “Now let’s give her a star on the Broad Street Walk of Fame”.
“It’s brilliant, what a coup for Birmingham!” opined 22-year old trainee beautician April Fool.