‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ a sight of empowerment

 24 Jul 2017 - 2:16

‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ a sight of empowerment
Jessica Fulford-Dobson. Pic: Baher Amin / The Peninsula

By Raynald C Rivera / The Peninsula

In a society where girls riding bicycles is frowned on, young girls on skateboards experiencing liberation and empowerment is an unusual sight perfectly captured on lens by British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson, whose award-winning exhibition “Skate Girls of Kabul” is here in Qatar for the first stop of its global tour.

The photo exhibition is a result of Jessica’s two-year long project with non-profit NGO, Skateistan which teaches children from poor and displaced families to skateboard to encourage them to go back to school.

“Someone asked me the other day: “Do you like humanitarian stories?” I said I didn’t see it that way. I just saw a great story about girls in a conservative society being able to do this (skateboarding), have some freedom and a chance to have a childhood through the charity,” she said. “We’re used to classroom scenes but we’re not necessarily used to seeing a load of girls skateboarding and showing us how they don’t have any fear they’re just giving it a go and that we can all be inspired.”

One of the photos in the series won second prize in the 2014 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize while the book “Skate Girls in Kabul” was in the Smithsonian’s top 10 photographic books of 2015. The charity has now gone beyond the borders of Afghanistan expanding to Cambodia and South Africa.

Back when she first broached the idea in 2012, the artist did not foresee that the project would have a huge impact around the world. “It is influencing other sports, people around the world and the image of girls in sport. It’s just wonderful to see how it goes down to the essence of what sports does and the confidence that it can give. It is wonderful to give exposure particularly for girls doing sport because invariably it’s a male dominated area,” she said.

While the project has created big impact on the girls and people, it has been life-changing on the artist herself. “It has impacted me massively, going to a part of the world I only heard of habitual doom and gloom and come away so inspired and produce my best work. I can’t believe that I’m here in Qatar a few years later.”

 

Photo: Kammutty V P

 

More than a replication of what the 74,000 people who visited the Saatchi Gallery in London enjoyed two years back, the exhibition has additional elements which makes every visitor experience it to the fullest.

It has more photos of the girls as well as a virtual life-size street scene of Kabul which gives visitors a sense of where the girls come from. A skating ramp where visitors can try skateboarding and the actual recording of the of the girls laughing while they enjoy skateboarding add to the experience of viewing the exhibition.

“It’s a joy to be here to see the exhibition Qatar Museums made even bigger and better, which is wonderful because it gets the support like what it got in London. It just shows the story cuts across all boundaries of cultural divides reminding us what we have in common wherever we are from and uniting us in a world that might be trying to pull us apart.”

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