Afghanistan, art of resistance

Afghanistan: Exiles of the Mountain of Oblivion.

11/photo © Seamus Murphy/

O exiles of the mountain of oblivion!
O the jewels of your names, slumbering in the mire of silence
O your obliterated memories, your light blue memories
In the silty mind of a wave in the sea of forgetting
Where is the clear, flowing stream of your thoughts?
Which thieving hand plundered the pure golden statue of your dreams?
In this storm which gives birth to oppression
Where has your ship, your serene silver mooncraft gone?

Light blue memories, Nadia Anjuman

It’s been almost a year now since I dedicated a post to Nadia Anjuman – Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers.

A new book featuring her poetry came out couple of months ago, entitled Load poems like guns: Women’s Poetry from Herat, Afghanistan. It made me think of Anjuman again, made me dive into her poetry and admire it once more. And when I think about Anjuman, I think about the sorrows of Aghanistan.

Just last month, Obama extended the Afghanistan mission into 2017. And in these links of war, the news is also that his administration approved an $11.25 billion deal to sell four advanced, Lockheed Martin-made warships to Saudi Arabia (although Amnesty International has called on the US to halt arms transfers to Saudi Arabia or risk being complicit in war crimes in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is waging a U.S.-backed campaign against Houthi rebels).

Not surprised, but still surprised (you can feel both at the same time) and sad about this news, I went through Anjuman’s poetry and Seamus Murphy’s photo series from Afghanistan.

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Murphy’s photos carry the beauty I find in Anjuman’s poetry. Yes, they can be extremely sad, but yet they show a spark of resistance, a different view, a possibility other than indifference. An all of that is very subtle, very nuanced, very quiet.

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

In one interview, Murphy said about his book Afghanistan: A Darkness Visible: “Although Afghanistan is obviously a troubled place, the book and the exhibition has very little of war in it, although most of the pictures are taken during wartime. But a lot of them are quiet pictures.”

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Unlike A Darkness Visible, the photos I chose to accompany this small note about Anjuman & Afghanistan are colorful, taken by Murphy mostly in 2009 and 2012, during his trips to Afghanistan. I think they are still quiet and still manage to catch the darkness in the most subtle of ways. But not just darkness – and that’ the beauty.

And why color this time? Because when I dream of Anjuman, I dream in color.

//all photos © Seamus Murphy//

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Afghan Women by Farzana Wahidy.

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The Afghan city of Kunduz was seized by the Taliban this week. A hospital in Kunduz was bombed today during the US airstrike – Medecins Sans Frontieres says it gave the coordinates of hospital (hit by an airstrike that killed at least 19 people) to US forces several times.

Another 19 human beings and all their lives are now being reduced to collateral damage. Afghanistan, and all the other war-torn places can’t seem to leave my head…

Farzana Wahidy was born in Kandahar and moved to Kabul at the age of six. She attended school during the years of the Afghan civil war. After the Taliban came to power and prohibited the education of women, she secretly attended an underground school located in an apartment with three hundred other girls (it made me think of Nadia Anjuman and the Golden Needle Sewing School).

And Anjuman’s verses just keep on reappearing in front of my eyes, falling all around – sounds of shattered glass.

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

But back to Wahidy now. When the Taliban were defeated Wahidy continued her education, completing high school then enrolling in a two-year program sponsored by AINA photojournalism Institute. In 2004 she began working part-time as a photojournalist for AFP becoming the first female Afghan photojournalist to work for an international wire service. She continues to freelance for a number of international news outlets.

These are some of the photos from her Afghan Women series.

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/all photos © Farzana Wahidy/

I’d like to end this post with one more Afghan woman I admire and often think of – Setara from the Afghan Star. I don’t know where and how she is now, but I hope music still lifts heaviness from her heart and she still manages to look life in the eyes with a smile.

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For more on Farzana Wahidy and her work, visit her official website.

For more on Nadia Anjuman and her poetry, visit Circumference.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers.

Nadia Anjuman was an Afghan poet (born in 1980, died in 2005). She was born in Herat, a city captured by the Taliban in 1995. With no hope for continuing her education at that time, Anjuman rallied with other local women and began attending an underground educational circle called the Golden Needle Sewing School, organized by Herat University professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab in 1996.

Members would gather three times a week under the guise of learning how to sew (a practice approved by the Taliban government), while in actuality the meetings enabled them to hear lectures from Herat University professors and lead discussions on literature.

nadia anjuman/Nadia Anjuman, image via Phyllis MacLaren/

My first thought when learning about the Sewing Circle of Herat was very predictable – it reminded me of Dead Poets Society. The notion that they had to meet in secret to discuss literature and write poetry was terrifying and enchanting at the same time. Terrifying was the fact that they had to do it with such great risks, enchanting was that they did it in spite of that.

In 2001, the doors of the girl’s schools were opened once again. Anjuman was admitted to the Literature Department of Herat University, and couple of years later, when she died, her brother recalled how that was the happiest time in Nadia’s life – “she seemed as though she’d been handed the whole world”. Her parents were supportive and respectful of her talent and she was adored by her brothers and sisters. Her writing blossomed and she published her first book of poetry, Dark Flower, four years later (2005).

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One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon

(written in summer of 2001, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Unfortunately, Anjuman found herself in an unhappy marriage. Her husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Neia, graduated from Herat University with a degree in literature and became the head of the library there. Although he was a literature graduate, many of Anjuman’s friends and relatives claim Neia was not supportive of her writing.  One night, in November of 2005, Anjuman and Neia had a fight. That night Neia beat Anjuman until she was unconscious, causing severe bruising and a cut to her head. It was reported that she died as a result of injuries to her head.

Anjuman’s brother describes the night she died:

“It was the bitterest news we had ever received. No one could believe it. That night was a hundred times darker than other nights. The moon had been veiled and Nadia’s life had been extinguished!”

He continues to say:

“Nadia was buried amidst an aura of tragedy; the light rain fell like tears in the cemetery in north-east Herat. In the days that followed tributes appeared in all publications. Nadia’s poetry, talent, character and personality were praised. Interviews appeared in the media, round table discussions and scholarly dissections of her tragic fate. Many people still come to our house to bless Nadia, but to what end? Nadia has left this horrible world forever.”

Anjuman’s husband Neia was imprisoned after her death, but the tribal elders in Herat began to lean on Anjuman’s ailing father, asking that he forgive Neia for her death in order to shorten his prison sentence. With the promise that Neia would remain in prison for five years, Anjuman’s father relented. Her death was officially deemed a suicide by the Afghan courts, and Neia was released just one month later. Her father died shortly after from the shock, according to Anjuman’s brother.

The Complete Poems of Nadja Anjuman were published by Iran Open Publishing Group in 2014. There are couple of English translations of  Anjuman’s poems available online. She is now one of the dead poets, but the eternal pit of time will not be able to turn her greatness into the darkness of oblivion, I am sure of that.

Eternal Pit (translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow

 

Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts

 

Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees

 

Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power

But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp

fading

 

She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go

 

She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time

That

eternal pit

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