Afghanistan, art of resistance

Time Travel Booth: Afghanistan by Paolo Woods.

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All of the following photos were taken by the great photographer Paolo Woods, during his visit to Afganistan in 2002. Unlike many Time Travel Booths, this one is not about how much has changed, but rather how much remains the same.

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The UN has sent back to his village Shamsuddine and his family from the refugee camp in Mazlak where they had sought protection from the war and the drought. They were given one sac of wheat to eat and one to sow. It is not the sowing season so after the first sac was finished, they ate the second. Now they eat wild grasses.

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Qablei Rahmani is a Mirab, a master of water. This is the first year the rain is back after a long drought. His work is to distribute the water of the Murghab river to the 1270 small landowners that live in the area. The Murghab river flows down from the Hindu Kush all the way to Turkmenistan.

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Since the Taliban have been defeated the UN has decided that all the children have to attend school. But in most villages there are no schools left. Here in Arab Arzai 400 kids learn sitting on the grass. But not only the facilities are missing, there are no teachers left. The students that know how to read try to teach the ones that don’t. 

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On TV hill, one of the hills overlooking Kabul, a boy swings from the dangling electric wires of a pylon destroyed by the war.

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Hundreds of Hazara’s have been burried in this vast unmarked cemetery. They are the victims of the civil war (1992-1996).

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In 1979 the Russians built an Olympic swimming pool on one of the hills overlooking Kabul. The swimming pool has been completed just months before the invasion of the country. It has never been filled with water and it has never been used. The kids of Kabul come here, hang out and play with kites.

/all photos © Paolo Woods/

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For more on Woods and his photography, visit his official website.

Previous Time Travel Booths:

Middle East by Inge Morath

70’s and 80’s Sudan by Abbas Habiballa

Palestine, First Intifada

20th Century Syria

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Souvid Datta: Contemporary Kabul.

I love photography. Sometimes it speaks in a language louder and more comprehensive than words do. When it comes to Afghanistan, I always try to show diverse photo projects and essays. From Massimo Berruti’s black and white photographs which show the daily distress, destroyed lives and broken country to Riverboom’s interesting twists in their Baechtold’s Best – Afghanistan series.

Today, it’s Souvid Datta and his project Contemporary Kabul. I stumbled upon his work while reading an article in The Guardian and I am really happy about this little discovery. About his Contemporary Kabul project, Datta states:

Common, contemporary perceptions of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, is based on three decades of war coverage. From the Soviet and Mujahideen battles, to Taliban rule, US invasion and subsequent security struggles, the stories and images most internationally pervasive are those coloured in conflict, bloodshed and tribulation.

Today, the Kabul that exists is one of many faces. One where bombed out buildings stand aside fresh internet cafés. Where more children and girls are attending school that ever before. Where shops and streets are populated by musicians, artists, athletes and activists who are trying to live connected to 21st century lives in spite of the massive infrastructure problems and the ever-present military attacks. Against the backdrop of Afghanistan’s first and messy democratic transfer of power as well as the Taliban’s recent tide of violence, this series explores contemporary trends in youth culture, arts and daily life. It is an ongoing, unfinished project.”

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The everyday life in Kabul is a life in a twilight zone between war and peace, as many of the different photo essays I wrote about show. This one lets a little more sunshine in.

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I think it is visible that a lot of time and dedication went into this photo project. This isn’t one of those cases where a photographer picks a ‘hot spot’, snaps hundreds of photos in couple of days and then leaves. Datta took his time to discover the culture of Afghanistan and meet its people.

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It’s refreshing to see such a detailed and in-depth look at Kabul at this moment in time. I think more of this kind of work – with genuine interest and emphaty – is needed in the photo-journalism community.

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Enjoy these photos but also remember war is still out there – and just tomorrow one of these faces could never again smile, watch a film, fly a kite, run, play, study, walk, work or  breathe.

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Undeserving and senseless death is nothing new in Afghanistan. Luckily, strength and resistance are also ever-present.

//all photos © Souvid Datta//

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For more on Datta’s work, visit his official website.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The Little Book of Kabul.

The Little Book of Kabul is an intimate portrait  of Kabul through the eyes, accents and activities of a number of creative people who live in the city.  It is a project by Lorenzo Tugnoli, a freelance photographer based in Kabul, and Francesca Recchia, an independent researcher and writer. When they started the project, they weren’t sure what they wanted it to look like. But they were sure what they didn’t want it to portray. In a conversation with TIME LightBox, Recchia said: “One of the things that we didn’t want was an exotic dimension. An ‘Oh my God, you work in Kabul!’ moment.”

11/You can buy the book here/

Having lived in Kabul for three years, Tugnoli and Recchia were familiar with its community of artists, one struggling to preserve a sense of normality on a day-to-day basis. Recchia explains how: “It wasn’t a matter of interviewing someone or taking a picture and then leaving, it’s really quite an intimate perspective on people’s lives.”

ase/A man looks out of the window as he travels in a bus in downtown                                                       Kabul/

On Tugnoli’s website, the book is described as a project that “takes the reader in a personal journey through the strive for artistic expression and the small, ordinary moments of life that escape the media representation of three decades of conflict in Afghanistan.”

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aser/Arifa, a student at the Center for Contemporary Art, poses for one of he colleauges’ art work/

Tugnoli and Recchia also run a blog The Little Book of Kabul, where they post their thoughts, field notes and little stories of daily life in Kabul. Describing the process of creating the book, they write:

“We have tried to reverberate through words and images what Kabul has gifted us through the eyes of her artists. We built a narrative in fifty photographs and twenty short stories made of small close ups and emotions.

It has been a longer journey than what we had initially imagined. The book has slowly taken over, beyond the rationality of schedules and decisions, gaining an autonomous shape, its own ‘personality’. We have chosen to be led, to follow rather than set the pace; we have chosen to allow the unexpected and to be surprised.”

dag/An actress runs through the ruins of Darulaman Palace during the recording of a music video filmed by Jump Cut, a collective of young independent film-makers/

der/Young skaters practice in the garden of the Institut Français d’Afghanistan during the Sound Central Music Festival/

For them, Kabul has been a “journey demonstrating that the desire to imagine the future is an important tool to build the present.”

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For more on the book and Tugnoli’s and Recchia’s work, visit their blog and Tugnoli’s website, and follow Recchia on twitter.

// all images in this post © Lorenzo Tugnoli/The Little Book of Kabul //

And a little music to conclude these Kabul fragments.

 

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Meena Kamal: Hope Is The Thing With Feathers.

Hope is the thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson wrote a long time ago.  Where does it fly nowadays, does it keep its eyes on Afghanistan? Last night I read poems by Meena Keshwar Kamal (commonly known as Meena). I wanted to type something about Meena right away, but then decided it would be better to do it in the morning, to let her poems stay with me for a while, in the stillness of the night.

Meena was an Afghan revolutionary political activist, feminist and founder of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). She was only 20 when, in 1977, she launched RAWA, Afghanistan’s first organized movement for women’s rights. Four years later, Meena launched a bilingual feminist magazine called Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message).

Meena_founder_of_RAWA_speaking_in_1982/Meena speaking in 1982, photo via RAWA/

In the beginnings with RAWA, Meena started a campaign against the Russian forces and their puppet regime in 1979 and organized numerous processions and meetings in schools, colleges and Kabul University to mobilize public opinion. Payam-e-Zan has constantly exposed the criminal nature of fundamentalist groups. Meena also established Watan Schools for refugee children, a hospital and handicraft centers for refugee women in Pakistan to support Afghan women financially.

Sadly, when she was only 31, Meena was assassinated by agents of KHAD (Afghanistan branch of KGB) in Pakistan in 1987. She was married to Afghanistan Liberation Organization leader Faiz Ahmad, who himself was assassinated a year earlier, by the agents of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 1986. They have three children, whose whereabouts are unknown.

meenaaaa/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

In a biography about Meena, published on the RAWA website following her death, the organization said:

 “Meena gave 12 years of her short but brilliant life to struggle for her homeland and her people. She had a strong belief that despite the darkness of illiteracy, ignorance of fundamentalism, and corruption and decadence of sell outs imposed on our women under the name of freedom and equality, finally that half of population will be awaken and cross the path towards freedom, democracy and women’s rights. The enemy was rightly shivering with fear by the love and respect that Meena was creating within the hearts of our people. They knew that within the fire of her fights all the enemies of freedom, democracy and women would be turned to ashes.”

poster2/RAWA’s poster for Meena/

In her poem I’ll Never Return, Meena writes:

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve arisen and become a tempest through the ashes of my burnt children

I’ve arisen from the rivulets of my brother’s blood

My nation’s wrath has empowered me

My ruined and burnt villages fill me with hatred against the enemy,

I’m the woman who has awoken,

I’ve found my path and will never return.

I’ve opened closed doors of ignorance

I’ve said farewell to all golden bracelets

Oh compatriot, I’m not what I was

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve found my path and will never return.

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/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

I’ve seen barefoot, wandering and homeless children

I’ve seen henna-handed brides with mourning clothes

I’ve seen giant walls of the prisons swallow freedom in their ravenous stomach

I’ve been reborn amidst epics of resistance and courage

I’ve learned the song of freedom in the last breaths, in the waves of blood and in victory

Oh compatriot, Oh brother, no longer regard me as weak and incapable

With all my strength I’m with you on the path of my land’s liberation.

My voice has mingled with thousands of arisen women

My fists are clenched with the fists of thousands compatriots

Along with you I’ve stepped up to the path of my nation,

To break all these sufferings all these fetters of slavery,

Oh compatriot, Oh brother, I’m not what I was

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve found my path and will never return.

Meena represented the struggle Middle East needs the most – the liberation from within. Not some Western forces coming to “liberate” or to “establish a democracy”, but a true change that can never be achieved by imposing it from the outside. She spoke about the history of Afghan women’s struggle for social recognition and equal rights in connection to the history of the country’s physical and cultural devastation (by different invasions and wars). She connected the two, which is what Western mainstream media so often fails to do.

Her organization, RAWA, continued with work after Meena was assassinated, and is still very active today:

RAWA believes that freedom and democracy can’t be donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to fight and achieve these values. Under the US-supported government, the sworn enemies of human rights, democracy and secularism have gripped their claws over our country and attempt to restore their religious fascism on our people.”

meena22/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

Women from RAWA are doing great things and helping many people. In that sense, all those images we see of helpless and abused Afghan women in the Western media, obuscure the great role Afghan women play as agents of change in Afghanistan, and have been playing for the last couple of decades. It’s not just RAWA and Meena. One of the things that first comes to my mind is the story of the village widowed women built on a hill overlooking Kabul. Or the story of women’s bakery in a small village in rural Afghanistan. Or the story of Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female street artist. Or the story of Setara, singer who appeared on the Afghan Star, sang with great emotion, and included dance in her final performance, an action that put her life in danger. Or the story of Sadaf Rahimi, first female boxer in Afghan national team, who was invited to London Olympics in 2012 (at the age of 17).

There’s many stories like this, and there will be many more, because the women of Afghanistan are not just oppressed, abused and broken, but powerful, brave and active. Like Meena was. Hope, that thing with feathers Dickinson wrote about, still keeps so many warm, and never stops – at all.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Kabul’s Pahlawan Gym Club, Wedding Party & Baba Taxi.

This headline might not make sense at first glance, but it will soon. Thanks to Versus Art, I discovered M. Sharif Amin, Kabuli artist who paints metal signboards. According to his Versus profile:

Mr. Sharif Amin is in his 50’s. He is from the earlier generation of Kabuli artists who lived through the Taliban. Amin was painting metal signboards when he was not allowed to create art. He has been using recycled and sheet metal to make popular, lorry truck, old school art instead. His work is both contemporary and reminiscent of old ways of painting in Afghanistan. Very few of the younger generation artists are following this school. However Amin has found a following in the expat market who are taken by his charming art and new thought – marrying the contemporary and the traditional in an interesting medium.

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//all images via Versus. Visit them if you wish to see more or buy M. Sharif Amin’s art//

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Art of Resistance: The Afghan Institute of Music, Kabul.

Andrew Quilty is a well known Australian photographer. He recently made his first trip to Afghanistan, where he intends to return very soon. From his first visit to Afghanistan, Quilty brought some great stories. One of them is a story about the Afghan Institute of Music in Kabul.

Artist statement:

“In 2001 further to the collapse of the Taliban government, whose radical interpretation of Islam led to a world without television nor music, it was the Afghan people themselves who brought music back into their lives” says Sarmast from his office at ANIM.

Originally, the ANIM (Afghan National Institute of Music) project led by Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, was a theoretical report commissioned by the Afghan Ministry of Culture on how to revive the taste for music in the country. During six years, Dr Sarmast led the project into a new direction, by creating in 2010 this independent school which provides free vocational music training and a general education to street kids and children (to both girls and boys) from remote provinces.

Yet, the lack of qualified Afghans music teachers and musicians is obvious despite the close links that exist between musical culture and Afghan philisophy. The World Bank’s subventions, the Afghan Education Ministry and the German and US governments’, provide help to this school and hence offering it the guarantees of a confortable future. It also gives the youth of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organisation – a national network of nine orphanages-cum-boarding schools – the possibility to access this educational system, especially the girls.

In this country where foundamentalist politic tensions tend to continue to slow down the development of the teaching of culture, the ANIM carries a message of hope towards the rediscovering of a national musical tradition.”

Here are some of Quilty’s photos.

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/all photos  © Andrew Quilty/

For more on this project, go to Agence VU.

For more on Quilty and his work, visit his official website.

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