‘The distance between us,’ shows a girl facing another. A hand shuts her mouth while another hand shuts the other’s eyes. The two cannot therefore communicate.
The photograph, a part of 23-year-old Afghan national Hanifa Alizada’s visual arts thesis at the Beaconhouse National University (BNU), has been selected for the World Bank-sponsored Imagining Our Future Together travelling art exhibition.
Alizada, who hails from the Afghan city of Ghazni, says, “The photograph draws inspiration from my time as a refugee in Tehran.” Alizada migrated to Iran as an eight year-old when her family decided that the civil war in Afghanistan was affecting her education.
“My parents decided to move to Tehran hoping it would provide us better educational opportunities,” Alizada said. “But we were not allowed to study at Iranian state schools,” she recalls. Alizada was admitted to elementary school run by Afghan refugees for their children. “The discrimination I suffered in Tehran as a child is expressed in some of my current artwork,” she says. “I began to wonder whether there was something wrong with me.”
In the spring of 2002, Alizada and her family returned to Kabul since there were no schools in Iran for Afghans to enroll for a higher education. “We left Afghanistan to pursue education and we returned…to pursue it,” she recalls. “Our return coincided with the American intervention in Afghanistan… the country was still in a state of war.”
After Alizada completed grade 12 from a private school in Kabul, her principal encouraged her to apply for admission at Beaconhouse National University (BNU) under the SAARC scholarship programme that was later renamed the UNESCO Madanjeet Singh Institute for South Asian Arts scholarship. Alizada got the scholarship in 2008.
“My family was initially worried about me travelling to Pakistan but later gave in,” she says. “I was always curious about Pakistan…I had read about Benazir Bhutto in grade 10 and wanted to learn more about the country she belonged to. Lahore’s heat was the first thing that struck me upon arrival in September 2008,” she says.
“I was unfamiliar with the languages spoken at the university,” Alizada says. “It also took me a while to adjust to the spicy food and power outages.” A greater challenge was obtaining annual visa renewal. Salima Hashmi, the dean of the School of Visual Arts and Design, helped smoothen the process, she said.
Alizada’s photograph shortlisted out of a total of 280 entries from SAARC countries, will be displayed along with 24 other shortlisted artworks at different World Bank offices in South Asia from September this year to May 2013 after which they will be displayed in Washington DC between June and July 2013.
Alizada hopes to get a job at the Kabul University. She also looks forward to art exhibitions in Kabul and Lahore later this year. She said that the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan had several misconceptions about one another due to political differences. “Perhaps…the youth of both countries can help overcome them.” On concluding her arts education, she says, “It feels like finally going to bed after a long, hard day.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.