Through the Afghan prism

Published: 19 November, 2013 16:00 IST | Soma Das |

Catch a glimpse of what it means to be a woman in Afghanistan thanks to Canadian photographer Lana Slezic, whose photographs spanning two years, are on display at Cymroza Art Gallery

Award-winning Canadian photographer Lana Slezic’s photographs of Afghan girls and women are on display in the city. The exhibition, titled Forsaken, is being hosted by the Consulate General of Canada along with Cymroza Art Gallery.

Malalai, a mother to six children, was the first policewoman in Kandahar. Her father and grandfather were policemen before her. When working outside her home and office she is always armed beneath her Burka.

The photographs document Slezic’s journey over two years during which she worked in Afghanistan. She has also worked in India on documentaries about the Prerna School of Girls, a school for Dalit girls belonging to the Mushahar community in Bihar. Excerpts from an email interview:

What led you to click these photographs?
I was on assignment for Canadian Geographic magazine and was covering the Canadian military role in Kabul while living at Camp Julien. When the six weeks were over, I decided to stay and that turned into two years. I decided to start documenting the plight of Afghan women who were under documented and misrepresented in the media. I was so moved by the women I met that I just kept going. Towards the end of 18 months, I remember sitting and thinking it was a book. It led to the exhibition which has now toured all over the world.

A prostitute in Kabul. Decades of war have left thousands of women widowed. Many have turned to prostitution as a means to support their children. If discovered these women could be killed by their families to maintain honour.

What were the challenges that you faced?
There were times when rocks and stones were thrown at me; times when I thought I was being followed (but probably never was). There were times when I was driving through dangerous areas in the southern part of Afghanistan; even though I was well-guarded, it was daunting to be in the back of an SUV with a guy holding a handgun over your head in one direction and M16 in the other direction because he’s worried that you might get attacked.

Can you tell us about your experiences with Afghani women?
Afghan women welcomed me into their homes; they were warm, open and loving. The endless cups of tea that I shared are forever in my heart and mind. I was always welcomed into their houses. They would always try to give me more than they ever had.

Photographer Lana Slezic

Tell us about your documentation of Indian society.

That project came from an article I read that the government decided that to hand out bubble wrap rather than handing out blankets to the homeless. I had been living in India for three years and I went to see if it was true. On the outskirts of Old Delhi there is a community of street people and a couple of shelters where they have street kids. I walked in and asked them about the bubble wrap and the bubble wrap was there. I thought I might do a series on it but that didn’t work so I transitioned to a documentary series about these kids. I visited a group of street kids over a year and got to know them. I documented their stories and that will be shown in a book called Walk in the Park that will be published in the fall of next year.

Are there any images that have stayed with you?

Kulisima was 11 years old when I photographer her. When she was a year old her father died and her mother remarried. Her stepfather sold her for $60 to a family in the village. When she was four she was married to their son who was six. For the next seven years, Kulisima was tortured by that family. She was beaten, they poured boiling water over her head, they locked her in a dark room, whipped her with chains and didn’t feed her. One day, it came to a halt when her stepfather asked her if she stolen his wrist watch. She denied it and he accused her of lying and threatened to kill her. That night she gathered up her things in a little tin box. She escaped in the middle of the night and ran 8 km. People took her to the police station and she met Malalai, the first police woman right after the ousting of the Taliban. Malalai eventually placed her in this orphanage where she was the only girl among boys and men. And that’s where I found her. When I photographed her and heard her story I fell to pieces. I made some phone calls and eventually she was transferred to an orphanage in Kabul where she grew up.

On November 19 to 30
At Cymroza Art Gallery, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Breach Candy.

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