Sharbat Gula A life beyond a photo - Alain Chivilò | Cultural Events | Art Musa

Sharbat Gula A life beyond a photo

The eyes, on an artistic and life level, can be a perceptive, psychological and vital element that can create and determine a difference. Photographer Steve McCurry (Philadelphia 1950) in a refugee camp in Pakistan during 1984, near Peshawar, was struck by the visual enigma that a 12-year-old girl transpired from the burka that covered her face, but not her eyes.
With the help of a translator, McCurry managed to persuade the girl to be photographed. Although she was Pashtun with the absolute prohibition of showing her face and head, but above all of not being able to talk to men not belonging to the family, she accepted giving life to one of the most iconic images in the world. In June 1985, the shot was published as a cover in The National Geographic.
For years that photo hid a life with more more negativeness than positiveness. Later identified as Sharbat Gula at the time of photography, in the refugee camp, she studied at the local sewing school. Eighteen years later, 2002, Gula learned of the stardom of her shot when Steve McCurry returned to Pakistan.
Biographically, Sharbat Gula orphaned at age six during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan she had trekked by foot to Pakistan with her siblings and grandmother. She lived as a refugee in Pakistan for 35 years, at the age of 13 she married and had five children. One died at an early age, a daughter died of hepatitis C (by BBC), as her husband in 2012 for the same cause.
In 2016, Gula returned to the news for being imprisoned after obtaining a false identity card, April 2014, in Peshawar, claiming to be born in Pakistan with the name of Sharbat Bibi. This document would have been necessary and useful for her to lead a better life, having more freedom than refugee status.
Behind a photo there is always a person with her/his culture, religion, dramas, joys and difficulties. For this reason a woman or a man portraits must always be respected.
Gula herself, in several interviews, pointed to her and her husband’s discomfort and embarrassment for this unexpected artistic and media celebrity.
On December 12, 2017, the news was published that “the Afghan girl” owned a residence in the capital of her native Afghanistan. The house is a gift from the Afghan government to Sharbat Gula, born in 1972, along with a salary of about $ 700 a month for living expenses and medical care, according to Najeeb Nangyal, spokesman for the Afghan communications ministry.
“This woman is a symbol to Afghans and also a symbol to Pakistan. The way she was parading in front of the media by Pakistan felt like humiliation of the Afghan government: here is this woman who had to flee your country for ours. The Afghanistan government responded by ostentatiously welcoming her back. The message was: We can take care of our own people”. (by Heather Barr, Human Rights Watch).
In the official communication of that period, as chronicle, in September the nephew of her late husband, Niamat Gul, complained to the Afghan media that the government had not paid the rent. Nangyal, a spokesman for the government, said “her rent and living expenses have been paid since she returned to Afghanistan. When she requested a more traditional home, he says, she was relocated to a 10-room rental near the presidential palace until a permanent house could be purchased”.
In 2021, with the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, Sharbat Gula will be hidden, as McCurry himself has indicated. In any case, the Taliban will not do anything to her, since their action against the person would be a death sentence, as well as being an extremely cowardly act of ignorance.
The Afghan Girl, Sharbat Gula: a life behind a photo. Few honors but a lot effort and combativeness.

by Alain Chivilò

© Alain Chivilò