“Being a woman in Afghanistan is never easy, and when it comes with art and you’re an Afghan woman artist, the challenges double.”
Fatimah, an Afghan woman born in Tehran, Iran, is a strong advocate of women empowerment and has often been moved to tears during and after photoshoots that seek to reveal the beauty, grace and resolution of Afghan women. While acknowledging the pain she feels for so many Afghan sisters, she is working on several projects that seek to elevate women. ” I have learned that patience is so important in life, and everything comes with patience,” she adds defiantly.
Please introduce yourself.
I am an Afghan artist, founder of Mastooraat Art Organization, a lecturer at Kabul University and a photographer who shares her time between Kabul and Tehran.
Tell us about your education.
I have a Bachelor in Industrial Engineering and one in Photography from the University of Tehran.
What was it like growing up in Iran?
Iran is like home to me, and sometimes I feel half-Iranian because I was born there and an essential part of my life was there. I owe my professional artistic path to Iran’s art atmosphere.
When did you decide to become a photographer, what triggered that decision?
I used to paint when I was 14. I was so passionate about art, but then I found myself in mathematical and engineering courses. Gradually, I felt frustrated because deep down, I was an artist. I realized I had to pursue my education in art. I decided to get another Bachelor in Art, and am glad I had the opportunity to study at the University of Tehran, one of Asia’s best, to continue art professionally and academically.
Why do you focus on Afghanistan in your work?
Afghanistan is my country. My nationality is Afghan, so I belong to Afghanistan, although I was born in Tehran. Also, we have so many untold stories in our country that I believe it’s the younger generation’s responsibility to tell them to the world. I want to show the untold stories of Afghanistan and Afghan women through my artwork.
What message do you try to deliver through your work?
Identity, gender and migration are three fundamentals of my work. But overall, my message is to show hope and the bright side of a topic. I rarely choose to work on dark themes. You can see these three different topics were the reasons and my challenges for my works.
How did you get interested in visual arts?
I love images and have a stronger connection with them. However, I appreciate art in any way that it comes, but I think images have a more profound impact than spoken words. That is why I chose photography and painting in visual arts.
You are versatile in what you do, how would you best describe yourself?
Honestly, I made many wrong decisions and went through lots of challenges when I was a teenager. I had so much energy, and sometimes I was so excited to do so many things, but I gradually learned that patience is so important in life, and everything comes with patience.
describe it this way: a super excited girl that had so many challenges in life because of her nationality and because she came from an Afghan migrant family living in Iran. Still, I never gave up, broke taboos and ignored the stereotypes to become a strong figure.
Where has your work been displayed?
I have attended different art fairs, festivals and had so many exhibitions in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Malaysia, Turkey, USA, France, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Italy, Albania and many more.
Where else would you like to see your work displayed?
Having solo exhibitions in New York, London and France are my next plans. These are the most important places in art history.
Which artists have had an influence in shaping who you are as a photographer?
So many artists inspire me and have influenced my artistic career and instincts. I find my works resonate with those of Jeff Wall, Lara Jade, Romina Ressia, Adam Ferguson, Azade Akhlaqi, Shirin Neshat, and Shadi Qadirian.
What equipment do you use?
I believe equipment should not play the main role in an artist’s work. Although a photographer with professional equipment can do a better job and take photos with high-quality resolutions, it’s the artistic sense and instincts of an artist that gives the best works. As I do staged photography, I have a house studio in Tehran with a complete light package. I mostly use Canon and Sony cameras for my shoots.
What or who inspires you?
Everything can inspire an artist, and everything can be a subject for a photographer. However, strong women and the beauty of this world inspire me more. And my father is always encouraging me to do more and more.
What challenges do you face in your work?
There are so many challenges for a woman artist in this world. I thought I had gone through a lot as a beginner, but when I moved to Kabul, I accepted I might have so many more. Society, traditions, media, and finding a safe location, discussing with the models, all of these are challenging for me as an Afghan woman artist in Afghanistan.
What is the most moving picture from a series that you have taken?
Mostly, I try to understand my models, feel the atmosphere and then take my photos. The central concept of my work focuses on the brighter side of a subject. When I was shooting for Khurasani Reflections, a collection which shows the beauty of Afghan women, I felt their beauty, and it reminded me how difficult and cruel that Afghan women’s beauty is always hidden.
Also, when I did some documentary photos for different projects and assignments, travelling to different provinces and seeing the situation of women there, it hurt me so many times. I feel so much in pain when I see how many Afghan women are faced with difficulties.
It occurred to me sometimes that I cried during or after a photoshoot. Being a woman in Afghanistan is never easy, and when it comes with art and you’re an Afghan woman artist, the challenges double.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
I can’t talk about one specific achievement because I took my artistic path step by step. In every step, I had a goal, and it was an achievement for me. So, I think there are still so many things to learn and so many accomplishments to achieve.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
I am working on my new organization Mastooraat, working on women empowerment and art in Afghanistan. I want to release my first photobook in 2020, and am working on new collections in different provinces of Afghanistan.
Do you have a ‘dream project’?
Definitely. Every artist and photographer have so many dreams. At this stage, I wish to visit Wakhan one day and take photos of the people there. Another dreamy one is to have a staged photography collection in the South Pole with a group of girls.
What are your hobbies?
Most of the time, I find myself busy with photography, assignments, travelling, teaching and this kind of lifestyle. I try to read books in my free time, watch movies, listen to music or stroll through the virtual pages of photographers and artists.
A few words for CiiN magazine.
Thanks for covering my story and promoting arts. In a world where things tend to divide people, art brings them closer.