Photojournalist gives insider’s view into lives of Afghan women

Afghani photo journalist Farzana Wahidy

~ By Lisa Maria Boyles, communications specialist for the College of Arts and Humanities with photos by Emily Redondo

Farzana Wahidy‘s photographs provide a glimpse into a world that few are able to experience — the daily realities of Afghan girls and women.

Farzana Wahidy talks about her work during a lecture at Fresno State.The award-winning Afghan photojournalist shared her story with a full house in the Peters Business Auditorium on Oct. 12. Her talk was followed by a reception in the Phebe Conley Art Gallery, where her photos are on display.

“The Other Eye on Afghanistan: Photographs by Farzana Wahidy” continues through Friday, Oct. 27, in the Phebe Conley Art Gallery at Fresno State. The exhibition and related events are presented by the Department of Art and Design in collaboration with the Center for Creativity and the Arts.

Wahidy was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 1984. Her formative years were influenced by the Afghan civil war and the Taliban’s rise to power in 1996. Despite the restrictions on women and education under the Taliban, Wahidy secretly attended an underground school.

After the Taliban was defeated, she enrolled in a two-year program sponsored by the AINA Photojournalism Institute.

“I find photography as a language that everyone can understand,” Wahidy said during her lecture. “I find photography a great format for expressing myself as a woman.”

She became the first female Afghan photographer to work at an international wire service when she joined Agence-France Presse and later the Associated Press.

“The Other Eye on Afghanistan: Photographs by Farzana Wahidy” is a series of photographs taken by Wahidy in Afghanistan.

Her images show scenes of hardships faced by women in Afghanistan – forced or child marriage, drug abuse, self-immolation, abuse. But Wahidy also captures life’s beauty – marriages, celebrations, happy moments laughing with friends at the beauty salon.

“I always see this connection between Afghan women and women outside,” Fahidy said, “that they’re fighting for the same thing. I always see hope. No matter how their life was hard … there is always this connection I see between women wherever I go.”

Joan Sharma, a studio art professor in Fresno State’s Department of Art and Design, invited Wahidy to exhibit her photos at Fresno State after seeing her story depicted in the documentary “Frame by Frame” several years ago.

“Her photographs shine a light on the lives and stories of women including their hardships and joys in a region of the world in which the U.S. has been engaged militarily for over 16 years,” Sharma said. Wahidy’s exhibition “supports a global perspective and intercultural understanding. The exhibition is an invitation to re-evaluate what we think we know about the life and people of Afghanistan.”

During her time as a visiting artist at Fresno State in October, Sharma said, Wahidy “generously shared her ideas and experience through formal lectures and gallery presentations with hundreds of students.”

“I was impressed by the depth of her interaction with students in a variety of classes including Art Education, Photography, Intercultural Communication, Communication 8, the First-Year Experience and CineCulture. Following a tour of the impressive photography studios and classrooms at Fresno City College, Farzana offered a presentation to a photojournalism class.”

Wahidy shared: “I think of photography as an international language. I find it as a way to express myself as women being raised during civil war and Taliban regime and also to share stories of women from my country to the world.”

In addition to the prints on display in the exhibition, three monitors in the northwest section of the Phebe Conley Gallery include video loops of some of the best works created by the new generation of photographers from the Afghanistan Photographers Association, a cultural and educational association. Farzana Wahidy works with many of these photographers as a teacher and mentor.

Wahidy was the discussant at CineCulture’s presentation of “Frame by Frame” on Oct. 20 (trailer below). The documentary covers the journey of four Afghan photojournalists (including Wahidy) making their way in a post-Taliban nation.

Wahidy’s visit and exhibition were made possible through an Instructionally Related Activities grant from the Associated Students Incorporated and collaboration between the Department of Art and Design and the Center for Creativity and Art.

“I am grateful for the support of Dean Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval; Martin Valencia, chair of the Department of Art and Design; Cindy Urrutia, director of the Center for Creativity and the Arts, Dr. Mary Husain, CineCulture, Chris Lopez, Gallery tech; and my student assistant, Emily Redondo,” Sharma said. “Without their assistance and collaboration, the exhibition and artist visit would not have been possible.”

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The College of Arts and Humanities provides a diverse student population with the communication skills, humanistic values and cultural awareness that form the foundation of scholarship. The college offers intellectual and artistic programs that engage students and faculty and the community in collaboration, dialog and discovery. These programs help preserve, illuminate and nourish the arts and humanities for the campus and for the wider community.

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