There is an exhibit this week in Kabul of paintings by young women, many of them students in the arts faculty of Kabul University. The show is really remarkable because until the fall of the Taliban in 2001, figurative art was forbidden, and women were not allowed to work or venture outside their homes alone without a male relative. It's not clear to me if women were even allowed to paint under the Taliban.
Afghanistan has been locked in civil war and strife for the past 30 years, and the society remains very conservative, placing many restrictions on women. Although these painters were allowed to create what they pleased, much of the imagery related to war and weaponry...
Many of the painters depicted women in burqa -- the all-encompassing cloak many women are forced to wear before stepping outside their homes. Many men will say that women want to wear the burqa, but women complain it is uncomfortable and makes every day a bad hair day.
Men want their wives, sisters and daughters to wear the burqa so that other men cannot see them, otherwise those men might want to marry the women or rape them. One reason women wear the burqa is to avoid being harassed by men, but why can't the men just behave and not make cat calls?
This painter describes her work: It shows how a person can have two sides -- appear perfectly normal when veiled, but maybe absolutely mad underneath.
The young women shown here spent two weeks weaving out this piece, showing the order of the world outside Afghan borders; when that foreign order enters Afghanistan, it stirs the country into total chaos, as seen in the messy ball of strings the colors of the Afghan flag.
This piece reminded me of the Taliban campaign to destroy figurative work, slashing and tearing countless paintings, many of which are still on display in a cabinet of artwork ruined by the Taliban.
She responded, "Not quite."
She said the work shows how women are not allowed to choose their own paths, placed on donkeys that are guided by men. If the donkeys (or the women) go out of line, the men have sticks to beat them back into their place.
This anecdote perfectly depicts the divide between the Afghan sexes: Afghan men will often tell me that women are afforded a special pedestal in society and are greatly respected. The women, on the other hand, will tell me countless tales of being physically and psychologically oppressed.