Painting the Iconic Marilyn Monroe with a Pakistani Twist!

By Sonya Rehman

24-year-old Karachi-based artist, Summaiya Jillani, took a little over two weeks to paint her version of the iconic, beautiful, Marilyn Monroe.

Featured in colourful ethnic wear, with her braided, blond hair draped on one side of her shoulder, in addition to chunky earrings, the painting is pop art eccentric, animated and pretty darn brilliant. In a mere few days, an image of the painting went viral over Facebook. Jillani, a graduate from Karachi University remains baffled by the attention her painting seems to be generating.

The artist with her gorgeous painting. Photo: Pernia Hassan

Initially wanting to be a GD Pilot, Jillani couldn’t make the cut due to weak eyesight. However, the artist’s father was keen on his daughter becoming a doctor. “I was very good at Biology,” Jillani says regarding her consistent inclination towards the field of art, “Making nice diagrams, etc., therefore, this career used to be in the back of my mind like a haunting beast.”

Photo: Insiya Syed

Currently teaching Art at Beaconhouse, Jillani spoke with HELLO! Pakistan about her painting, art, how she approaches a project and more:

When did you paint this piece and what was it for?

I started working on this piece early this year but I left it 15% done as I got busy with a series of family events. Then on being contacted by the VM Gallery, here in Karachi, asking for some fresh work for a show called ‘Attaining Heights,’ I resumed working on it and finished the remaining 85% in a week alongside my job. Initially I was making the painting for myself. I start things very whimsically; not knowing where and how they would end up – but then they make their own way out. I feel very lucky.

How long did it take?

If I had to count to the exact number of days, I can say it’d have taken me about 15 days.

Did you have any other ideas in mind regarding what you’d like to see Monroe wearing?

I always have a lot of options for one single image and I pick one of them up quite intuitively, not thinking too much about it! Too much thinking overcooks the idea and also wastes time, I believe. The dress (angarkha) that you see Monroe wearing in the painting is a creation of a very young designer, Nabiha Hassan, who also studied at Karachi University. The first time I saw the dress, I had a thing for it…not for wearing it, but for painting it somehow! That dress has a life of its own and that certainly has made the painting what it is and the credit must also go to the person who designed the clothes.

Photo: Pernia Hassan

What medium did you use for this painting?

I used a locally made cloth as the base with acrylic paints.

What was your inspiration behind this painting?

My only inspiration was to throw a pleasant visual at the viewer. I’m never looking for something too deep; rather, I look for an instant BANG effect! I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing, all I know is that it works best for me. I can’t even say if I like Monroe or not. I have a taste for rather different things in movies such as dark British comedy, etc. Monroe is something I know almost everyone falls for in a jiffy and that is exactly what I enjoy bringing to light in my work.

What has the response been like so far?

The response has been simply overwhelming! I uploaded a photo of the painting (on Facebook) that was taken by my brother at the gallery and I’d forgotten that my wall photos were open to the public. And the very second it was uploaded, ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ went wild! The image went viral and in less than 12 hours it had almost about 600 shares directly from my profile.

Have there been any interested buyers?


Is this a one-off painting, or are you open to making identical paintings for interested buyers?

The idea is still in progress. Even before starting the painting I had a series of images in mind. So yes, in the near future we will be seeing more of Monroe with more surprising elements and a lot more than just Monroe!

How do you approach a project, what does the process entail?

My process is when I work, I sleep with it, I wake up beside it, and I listen to music constantly. I cannot work without music. I can’t tell how many hours exactly, but when I’m working I’ll keep at it until the need of a nap takes over me. And I’m not even a workaholic.

What sort of art speaks to you?

I enjoy pop/retro art very much, and at times many meaningless paintings for only being breathtakingly beautiful. I’m all for massively done sculptures and in contrast I also have a thing for clean, delicate drawings.

In short, any sort and form of art can click with me unless it’s inclining towards dark art, visually. I’m not saying that I’m against it. It’s just that I don’t have it in me to digest too much of grimness and melancholy, especially in art. Humour, lightheartedness and even simple and neat works of art attract me. In Pakistan especially, I feel there is a need of the kind of art that uplifts people! It annoys me to see people trying too hard to understand a work of art. Now of course we cannot expect everyone to make eye-candy paintings, but too much depth kills the fun for me. And very honestly – drones, bombs and grenades certainly do not speak to me at all as they are already overdone: you see it in the news all the time. I believe if art has any role to play, it’s the direct momentary pleasure that it gives you and the long-lasting memory that stays.

HELLO! Pakistan


2 thoughts on “Painting the Iconic Marilyn Monroe with a Pakistani Twist!”

  1. Hi, I came across an article about your artwork while searching for a painting for my office. Like yourself I am in the teaching profession and recently secured a headship. I was looking for an art peace which would show links between Pakistan and the west ( perferably uk). Do you have any such pieces? Ramadan here is long – thankfully for us teachers it is during the holidays!

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