The artist uses her art as a medium to rebel against women’s oppression in Afghanistan
Sara Nabil, an Afghan artist who now lives in Germany, has used her work to process her own experiences of oppression, escape, and the search for identity. She depicts how women in Afghanistan become victims of systematic oppression through photographs and performances. She also looks into ways for them to reclaim their identity.
Sara Nabil unveiled a new artistic radicality for her new show at Mannheim’s Kunsthalle: In a pre-show performance, the artist completely shaved her long, black hair in front of an audience.
She snipped and snipped until she had shaved off the last bits of her hair. Nabil used this artistic protest to demonstrate how the female body in Afghanistan has increasingly become a venue for political ideologies, cultural conflicts, and power struggles, especially since the Taliban regained power last summer.
Sara Nabil perceives art as a form of self-expression. “Afghanistan is an Islamic patriarchal society. I’ve always been oppressed because of my gender identity “, she informed DW, a well known international broadcaster. “I’ve seized control over my body by cutting my hair. I’m breaking the rules, laws, and regulations that religion, society, and the government has imposed on me as an Afghan woman.”
Sara Nabil was born in the Afghan capital of Kabul in 1994 and began attending school after the Taliban regime was deposed in 2001. She began studying modern art as a teenager at the Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan (CCAA). She took part in an exhibition in 2008 that was also shown in Germany.
In 2013, she studied political science at Karwan University in Kabul. She was threatened by the Taliban even as a women’s rights activist and artist at the time. She witnessed a suicide bombing at the university in December 2014.
Soon after, in February 2015, she used an invitation to a student conference in the Netherlands to apply for political asylum in Germany. She has been studying art at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (University of Art and Design) in Offenbach since 2016.
Her escape differs from many other people’s flights from their home country as she was able to obtain a visa, according to Nabil. However, she shares the experience of exile with millions of people who are persecuted because of their religion or political beliefs.
According to the young artist, she has yet to come to terms with her escape and feels as if she is living in two worlds. She is also constantly concerned about how her art will be received in Afghanistan.
Nabil’s work goes far beyond the realm of art. She founded E-School Afghanistan, an online programme for schoolgirls, to help girls in Afghanistan in a concrete way. She hopes that by implementing the programme, she will be able to ensure that at least some Afghan girls receive an education. Despite the public statements to the contrary, the Taliban have prohibited girls from attending school beyond the sixth grade.
The exhibition “Sara Nabil” is free and open to the public at the Kunsthalle Mannheim until August 28, 2022.