The images pulled from the lives of Afghan girls and women in Lana Šlezić’s Forsaken are immediately and powerfully affecting.
The cover shot alone hints at the depth of contrast and complexity that the work contains.
Consider the fragility (the torn lace) and the endurance (the short soiled fingernail), the artifice (the polish) and the organic (the warp and weft of the individual fibres).
Then, the layers (the twist of the necklace, the pucker in the fabric, the dirt pressed into the folds of skin).
And this is simply a close-up. Some of the images offer entire tableaux. Whether small- or large-scale, the artistry throughout is truly remarkable.
But for a reader, one for whom words carry particular weight, perhaps less comfortable considering images rather than prose, the preface by Deborah Ellis offers immediate and direct immersion of a different sort.
“When we look at Afghanistan, we are really looking at ourselves. For over twenty-five years, Afghanistan has been the world’s punching bag. Our leaders helped make it so; our tax dollars blessed their decisions. The question to ask is not ‘why’. We know why. Greed. Ignorance. Fear. Sloth.
The question to ask is, What now?
This is the question that we cannot avoid when we regard Lana Šlezić’s photographs.”
The subjects are diverse. From the mesmerizing but alienating scene in which “A young girl turns handmade bricks to dry in the sun near Pul-a-Alam”. To the image of a woman “shot dead in her home at the age of twenty-four”, whose brothers were held on suspicion of murder, given the common occurrence of honour killings.
(If you’re curious, and cannot simply pull a copy off the shelf, her website’s Portfolio contains many of the images from the book: choose Forsaken.)
It is the range of content, and the corresponding expanse of emotional responses that the work provokes, which makes Forsaken such a wonder to recommend.
As one would expect, it is a work of importance which illuminates the hardships experienced by women and girls in Afghanistan: a work which deserves to be read to improve readers’ and viewers’ cultural comprehension.
For some, this is enough of a reason to seek out the book.
Those who avoid creative works that tackle difficult subjects might be surprised to find so many images of natural beauty and persistent joy herein.
There is tragedy and despair, but there is also endurance and determination, and there are stories of small triumphs and resistance.
And for all that the landscape is fractured and comprised of muted shades, the fabrics are lush and richly coloured. This is not a land solely composed of rubble and broken glass, but hennaed hands and sunlight.
And, yes, although the bulk of the work is photographic, there are six stories as well, those of Samia, Deljan, Gulsuma, Malalai, Shaima, and Zahra, (The names have been changed to protect the women.)
This includes the story of a sixteen-year-old girl on the day of her wedding, which heralds the end of her education and which may, as is the case with many forced weddings, lead to domestic violence, depression and suicide.
And also included is a glimpse into the life of a female police officer in Kandahar, whose father and grandfather had been a police officer and head of their village respectively, enabling her to carry a gun under her burka, affording her a degree of respect unusual for a woman to receive.
Lana Šlezić’s Forsaken is a work which inspires action, immediately in the form of increased awareness and simultaneously urging further queries and discoveries.
Her website includes some updates and another series of photos from Afghanistan, reminding viewers and readers that these stories have continued to unfold beyond the page, reminding us that the question “What now?” is still with us.
Project Notes: Lana Šlezić’s Forsaken is one of a few books I pulled from the House of Anansi backlist about the lives of women and girls. More tomorrow!