Monday, September 26, 2022

Resilience: Yet Here We Are

Photography | Brian Rope

Resilience: Yet Here We Are | Flavia Abdurahman and Gabor Dunajszky

Belco ARTS, Pivot Gallery | UNTIL 9 OCTOBER 2022

I am a man, raised in the Christian tradition, with minimal knowledge of Islam, with no memories of my childhood war zone experience, who’s never visited Afghanistan. How can I review an exhibition about Afghan Muslim women in war zones? I’ll do my best!

Resilience: Yet Here We Are uses video by Flavia Abdurahman and photographs by Gabor Dunajszky. Both speak about seeing themselves as resilient. The people shown in the work certainly are. This is about amazing social structures supporting people - traumatised women nevertheless feeding, supporting and caring for their families. A definition of resilience. They are still there, doing the things they need to, despite all their experiences.

At the time of filming her Afghanistan footage, Abdurahman was an independent video journalist, specialising in short documentaries and current affairs. Her clients included the UN Mission to Afghanistan’s Public Information Office and the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs.

The video features parts of footage for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, 2005-6, and of a journey shooting video of Afghan women and girls, 2003-6. It’s a female video journalist’s view; but speaks to us all. Powerfully. Inviting us to observe, and absorb, human dignity. To appreciate why she considers the Minister is a hero. Ideally, we should watch the Ministry of Women documentary before viewing ‘The Journey.

Purple girl at WD at Blue Mosque (video still) - Flavia Abdurahman

Blushing Bride to be (video still) - Flavia Abdurahman

One clip is titled Endless Life, specifically to draw attention to civilian resilience in the face of the post-Cold War military doctrine of "Endless War". Abdurahman suggests that our former federal government’s policy aspiration to make Australia a "Top Ten” defence exporter means that, in order to make the defence industry profitable, the Anglo-American sphere would need to create more “Afghanistans.” And that means we should learn from the resilience of the Afghans. She hopes viewers of her videos appreciate the factual depictions of heroism; unassuming, humble and very human. 

Dunajszky is a well-experienced humanitarian aid worker who happens to take photographs – following a family tradition. He first worked in Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the fall of the Taliban.

The photographs were recorded where the residents – despite their “normal” living conditions having been destroyed by earthquakes, war zones, and the like – retained their humanity and continued their everyday lives under very difficult conditions, relying on their resilience, good humour and belief in a better future.

The black and white photos are, perhaps, more powerful than his coloured works. The people photos are the most emotive. His portraits of “a young Afghan Lady,” and of then Minister of Women’s Affairs Dr Jalal during an unguarded moment reveal much.

Dr Massouda Jalal, the then Minister of Women's Affairs, 2004-6 - Gabor Dunajszky

Images of boys playing in a Kabul scrapyard, and of a desecrated graveyard, tell us much more than their specific content.

A Graveyard in Herat - Gabor Dunajszky

Together, the photos and video provide respectful and rare glimpses, some now forbidden, into the resolute and inventive endeavours of ordinary people to return dignity to their families and communities, in the face of complex challenges.

More recent re-occupation of Afghanistan by the Taliban makes these images important memories of people trying to refashion and reimagine its future. During the brief period, 2003 to 2006, Afghanistan worked towards becoming a viable democracy. Steps were taken to protect women’s rights. It was moving away from a tribal militia environment and commenced essential dialogue and interaction between civilian and military actors to promote humanitarian principles.

In January 2022, the Taliban closed down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. They’ve shut down most girls’ secondary schools and forbidden women to work.

This exhibition needs to be widely seen, touring other parts of Australia – including regional areas where Afghan refugees now live and work.

This review was first published online by The Canberra Times here on 12/9/22 and then in print on page 28 on 26/9/22. It is also available on the author's blog here.