Issued on: Changed:
The striking self-portraits by the photographer Rada Akbar are a declaration of her independence and her heritage – but in Afghanistan that is fatal.
The 33-year-old artist’s latest exhibition went online after she was threatened over her work, which features some of the country’s influential female figures.
The more than 180 people who have been murdered since September include high-ranking women such as media professionals, judges and activists – violence that the US and Afghan governments accuse the Taliban of.
“We are the minority who fight and raise our voices. By killing some of us, you will silence the rest of us,” she said of the insurgents.
“They send the message, ‘You have no place, if you want to do this you will be killed,'” she added.
Like most of her friends, she no longer follows a routine and has restricted her freedom of movement across the country.
“We keep telling (to) each other that ‘OK, we have to stay alive’ because if we die, what’s the point?” She said.
The militants lead a devastating offensive against Afghan forces after the collapse of peace talks between the warring parties.
Last week, all US and NATO forces left Bagram Air Force Base near Kabul – the command center for anti-Taliban operations – and ended their exit after 20 years of military involvement in Afghanistan.
– Freedoms lost –
Akbar is reminiscent of the Mexican feminist artist Frida Kahlo and is often held in place with a crown, with heavy gold and silver jewelry, which is prized by nomadic tribes in her self-portraits, while she is known for her stunning photographs of everyday life in Afghanistan.
She has participated in a number of exhibitions on International Women’s Day in the former royal palaces of Kabul.
Last year she used mannequins to portray exceptional figures such as a filmmaker, a footballer and – under a gauze cloak strewn with pebbles – Rokhshana, a woman stoned by the Taliban who had fled a forced marriage.
This year she presented her show about Abarzanan – superwomen in English – virtually, which was transferred to empty chairs in the Kabul Museum.
As one of five sisters, including the head of the independent Afghan human rights commission Shaharzad Akbar, she has always had the support of her parents, a writer and a teacher.
Unusually for a single woman in Afghanistan, Akbar has lived alone in an apartment in Kabul for ten years.
“(Afghanistan) is much more conservative now, in the past women had roles in society, in the arts, in the private sector … they enjoyed more freedom,” she said.
– Queens and Warriors –
Everything changed with the arrival of the mujahideen, whose fight against the Soviet invasion was funded by the Americans in 1979.
After the Soviets were sacked and civil war broke out, the Taliban gained a foothold before taking power and imposing one of the toughest regimes in the world that banned women from education and work.
She says women have often been portrayed as victims in the West, an attitude to which she subscribes.
“The story of Afghan women didn’t start after 2001,” she says of the US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban.
“We have a long and rich history that women have always contributed to.”
She finds it “disrespectful” when the international community claims to be behind the advancement of women in Afghanistan and is frustrated that a modern Afghan woman is often judged by whether she speaks English and wears Western clothing.
“We’re attacking our culture. It’s a different form of colonization,” she says.
The left feels betrayed by Washington’s withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, under which the US promises to leave the country in exchange for security guarantees, without insisting on the protection of women or human rights – it is losing hope.
Akbar has only known war in Afghanistan so far, Akbar says that the deteriorating situation has impacted her mental health, focus, and creativity.
“I feel like I’m very close to death these days. Will I be alive tomorrow?”
Â© 2021 AFP