Fatimah Hossaini

Under the veil

© Fatimah Hossaini

The Taliban entered Kabul on 15 August last year, after being ousted from power almost exactly 20 years earlier. The extremist organisation is again wielding an iron fist in Afghanistan, reinstating Islamic law throughout society. The first to suffer are women, who are again forced hide behind their burkhas with their fundamental freedoms violated.

Forced to flee her country, talented artist Fatimah Hossaini, 28, found refuge in France, bringing only her precious photographs with her. All these images pay vibrant tribute to the unique beauty of Afghan women. These women have few opportunities to express themselves freely and face hurdles posed by the heavy cultural heritage every day. Their challenges are far more daunting than those faced by other women around the world.

At 14, Fatimah Hossaini dreamed of being a painter; at 24, she graduated from the University of Tehran as an industrial engineer, acquiring a photography diploma at the same time. Having established herself as an exhibition curator, teacher and activist, and founder of the Mastooraat organisation in Kabul, which fights for women’s emancipation, she had no idea a year ago that her world would be turned upside down. Today, although her heart is broken, although her soul still wanders the vibrant alleys of a buried past, she refuses the dark inevitability and continues her struggle from her exile, giving lectures and testimonies wherever her voice can be heard. Because the women she celebrates from behind the lens are like her: they are beautiful and show courage and dignity even in the midst of the very worst ordeals. This exhibition shows the many faces of this beauty, with women from Afghanistan’s different ethnic groups – Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Qizilbash and Uzbek – dressed in their traditional costumes, wrapped in billowing silks. Their features, gaze and pose convey femininity and hope. Here, beauty and peace come together, and peace is always beautiful.

At a time when, in the words of the writer Yasmina Khadra, “men have gone mad; they have turned their backs on the day in order to face the night”, let us not forget the fate of these women.

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