Veiled Rebellion, The Side Gallery, Newcastle


If you are part of a certain ‘scene’ in Newcastle, you know about The Side Gallery’s existence. Up until recently, I had never visited the gallery. That changed when I read several articles in local, national and international publications about ‘Veiled Rebellion’, a collection of photographs of Afghan women taken by Lynsey Addario.

Addario was commissioned by National Geographic to create a “photo-essay” showing women in Afghanistan, considering as many differing situations, varying emotions and situations as possible. ‘Veiled Rebellion’ is the result of that assignment.

Addario first visited Afghanistan in 2000 and, between then and the beginning of her project, she visited three more times before the fall of the Taliban and every year after that.

Having visited the Middle-East myself – albeit more stable and “tourist-friendly” areas – and reading books about most of the countries of the Middle-East, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about the area, and absolutely love the terrain – it lends itself to some incredible photos, particularly through the lens of someone as talented as Addario. Although her photos reflect the life of women in Afghanistan, she also captures the beauty of the land beautifully.

The rural areas of Afghanistan appear almost like paradise but this is at odds with the stories Addario is telling with her exhibition. Girls setting themselves on fire, domestic abuse, suicide, repression and misery all feature prominently in this presentation.

Many people are familiar with the image of Bibi Aisha, the fourteen-year-old who was married to a Taliban fighter. After frequently being beaten, Bibi tried to run away. Her husband punished her by cutting off her hair, ears and nose with the help of other Taliban soldiers. The picture of Bibi was at the centre of the exhibition – with other images of girls who had been scarred with acid and made to marry at a young age leading up to the haunting image of Bibi.

This exhibit also depicts the life of American women in Afghanistan; women in the US Marines are working in communities as part of the new “Female Engagement Teams” in order to build relationships between women who aren’t allowed to speak to men outside of their family. I thought the picture of the female soldiers shaving their legs was a brilliant reminder of the fact that all of the women featured in this collection are like me or you – I’m lucky that I live in a society that values women and that our infrastructure is well-developed compared to Afghanistan.

There is a picture of a woman in jail because she divorced her infirm husband – five times her age – and because she doesn’t have a male guardian to “be returned to”. Another picture shows a woman in the grip of opium addiction.

There are, however, more inspirational photos. The image of young girls in graduation gowns, with their hijabs underneath, sitting in separate rows from their male counterparts made me want to cry with joy. Although female education was banned under the Taliban, women are now training and qualifying in areas like teaching, nursing and medicine. In one picture, girls train in preparation to represent Afghanistan in the London 2012 Olympics. Women attend presidential election rallies in a Kabul sports stadium and women who live in rural areas are being provided with pre- and post-natal care and advice by travelling midwives, funded by UN.

This exhibition made me uncomfortable, sad, angry and frustrated. But it also made me proud; of the women who refuse to give up, the women pushing boundaries in education and work, the ones demonstrating amazing tenacity and bravery in the face of a terrifying regime. This is a must-see exhibition for everyone.

This exhibition closed on the 13th October.




By Vic on October 31, 2012

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