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Afghanistan, Rada Akbar: “I left everything behind me in order to save my life.”

A famous photographer and artist in Afghanistan, Rada Akbar had to flee Kabul when the Taliban arrived. Having sought refuge in France, she has granted us this interview.

In mid-August you were evacuated from Afghanistan on a French flight; why were you threatened by the Taliban?

I am an artist and for the last ten years or so, Afghan women have been the focus of my work. I denounce misogyny and oppression. I am a woman and like millions of other women, I had to overcome many obstacles in order to succeed. Yet I come from a liberal family. My late father was a journalist, writer and feminist. My mother was a teacher. I’ve always had complete support from them. However I see that in Afghanistan, and also elsewhere in the world, women are always discriminated against: at work, by their colleagues, in society. As an artist, I use art to show what’s happening around me, mixing photography, performances, painting and installations. I consider myself an advocate of women’s rights. In Afghanistan, I was a very visible artist. Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day, I exhibited my photos and creations in Kabul's former royal palaces. In particular, I initiated the artistic project “Abarzanan,” which means “Superwomen.” I wanted to make the lives of my country’s inspiring and courageous women known - women like Malalai Kakar, a police officer who’s fought against crimes committed against women, and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, who’s battled for women’s education. The Taliban don’t like my work and my vision of society. What’s more, I think they’ve already destroyed the major part of my creative output.

You weren’t able to save anything?

No, virtually nothing. And the majority of my works, especially those from the last exhibit, were stored in a former palace which has since fallen into Taliban hands. I am still in shock. I’ve lost everything: my house, my work, my camera, my hard discs, my friends, my country, my dreams. I left everything behind me in order to save my life. On August 15th, when the Taliban arrived at the doors of Kabul, I totally panicked. I understood I had no way to escape the inevitable and that I had to leave. I took refuge in the French Embassy with my French roommate. Several hours later, I knew that I was on the list of people to evacuate. I landed in Paris on August 19th, my only relief being the fact that I felt safe. But I was out of my mind with worry for my mother, my brother and my sister who were still in Kabul. Since, they have been evacuated to Germany.

Are you able to look ahead in France?

I have already traveled in Europe, so I know the Occidental world. But right now I’m suffering from this immense loss in my life, from the total collapse of everything that was a part of me. When you leave your country, you abandon a huge part of what you are. A country is your history, your memory, your culture. For me this exile means enormous grief. At the moment, I am in the process of making my request for asylum, following the formal procedures. I have met many people since my arrival, particularly journalists, because I have granted interviews. But I’m tired, I need to settle in and be at peace. I need to find a place to create, a place to live. I need to construct a professional network and understand the world in which I find myself. This is the groundwork for my being able to look ahead, work as an artist, express what I carry within me and continue, here in France, my commitment to women.

Interview by Flore de Borde

Translated by Sally Gordon-Mark

Learn more about Rada Akbar's work

The Superwomen Project:

Instagram account:

Photo copyright : Rada Akbar


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