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In: All Things Arabia
Author: Holly Edwards

Photography has complicated Afghan visual culture considerably since its introduction in Kabul at the turn of the twentieth century, destabilizing normative convictions about who can be seen and by whom. In effect, Afghan women became visible, extricated from socially mandated invisibility by means of the camera. Transgressive images in some contexts and compelling icons in others, widely disseminated portraits entailed power and risk in the cracks between people, classes, cultures, and nations. This essay tracks the agency of images and image-making in these interstitial spaces, thereby exploring the aesthetics of social change. It begins with Queen Soraya, who willingly colluded in crafting a public persona for herself as she traveled through Europe on Afghanistan’s diplomatic mission of 1926; the argument ends with Vida Samadzai, who chose to participate in the Miss Earth competition of 2003. Both women deployed their own visibility for political purpose, behaving against the grain of normative behaviors in their own country but capitalizing on the consumption of female beauty abroad. In the intervening decades, the boundaries between nations were increasingly perforated by peripatetic images, blurring differences between previously discrete visualities. This study thus maps the helix by which the local and the global interact generatively over time. 

In: Muqarnas Online