Never underestimate the power of aunties. For South Asians, this means a chorus of women — related to you by blood, or not — who protect you fiercely, earning the right to weigh in on your business (and, let’s be honest, your weight).
As a woman of Pakistani descent, I grew up with too many aunties to count. A few years after moving back to Canada, my family lived with my dad’s older brother and his wife. While my mom worked at a Montessori school and my dad busied himself with a real estate course, my aunt, Sajida, looked after me. Sometimes she was tender, sometimes she was terrifying. But nowadays, after my mom, she’s the person whose warm hugs I look forward to most. Without fail, she calls me every year on my birthday, with prayers that, next year, maybe I’ll be celebrating with a husband; she asks if I see my parents enough; and she complains I don’t visit her enough (in fairness, I should definitely visit her more).
She recently visited my apartment for the first time, and I was admittedly a bit nervous about what she would think about my “reckless” (read: single) lifestyle. Still, she seemed so proud of me, husband or no husband. She even handed me a crisp 50-dollar bill so I could buy something nice for my apartment. Her acceptance of my version of adulthood, coupled with the knowledge that, as a widow who has never worked, it was likely a lot of money for her, well, it made me bawl on the spot.
Kully Rehal, an artist based in the U.K., has found the perfect way to honour these strong-willed women plucked from their homelands, who kept it together, not only for their own families, but anyone else’s kids who needed a little extra attention (or scolding). After spending time with some aunties in their 60s, she created an illustrated series depicting them in the guises of familiar superheroes like the Hulk, Wonder Woman and Spiderman.
“This Superhero Aunty series is paying tribute to all those aunties who have experienced various types of struggles after moving to this country, such as racism, sacrifices, domestic, verbal abuse, and generally working hard labour, that they had to endure,” Rehal told Quartz India. Below, you’ll find a few samples of Rehal’s powerhouse (yet relatable) re-imaginings of the women we call “aunty.”