Afghanistan 100 Years Later
Afghan American Artists’ & Writers’ Association
The Afghan American Artists’ and Writers’ Association (AAAWA) is
an Afghan women-led collective that organizes community exhibitions,
creative workshops, and public commentaries in order to showcase pivotal
diasporic works to a broad audience. Based in North America, AAAWA
aims to amplify work that critically analyzes discourse on Afghanistan in
the U.S. mainstream, where Afghan voices are routinely ignored or reduced
to cultural tropes. Through its forums, AAAWA illuminates a multiplicity
of issues ranging from hybrid identities to gender and sexuality to the
multigenerational impacts of war, including the ongoing ramifications of
U.S. imperialism and capitalism. We see ourselves connected through not
only our ancestral ties, but also through a shared vision for social justice
for marginalized communities globally. We are Afghans, Muslims, and/or
queer Americans with intersectional identities.
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Zine edited by Sahar Muradi and Malahat Zhobin
Design by Rona K. Akbari
Cover design by Gazelle Samizay based on a photograph by Rafi Samizay
Genocide - Mohammad Sabir
[acrylic on trees]
What would the dust of Afghanistan sound like if it were music? How
is a burqa transformed into canvas through oil paint? What stories do a
pair of shoes recount in the aftermath of displacement? These questions
are explored in an unprecedented showcase of art, writing, film, and
scholarship entitled, Fragmented Futures: Afghanistan 100 Years Later, opening
at ReflectSpace Gallery on November 16, 2019. Co-sponsored by the Afghan
American Artists’ & Writers’ Association, Fragmented Futures will run from
November 16, 2019 through January 12, 2020, and is co-curated by Gazelle
Samizay and Helena Zeweri of AAAWA and Ara & Anahid Oshagan of
ReflectSpace Gallery at the Glendale Central Library.
The year 2019 marks the centennial of some of the first attempts to
engineer a “modern Afghan state” following the third Anglo-Afghan War
in 1919. Attempts by foreign powers to incorporate Afghanistan into the
economic and political life of the international community had mixed
results for the country and its people. Political upheaval was accompanied
by the development of progressive agendas around gender equality, civic
life, and the media. In the words of photographer Rafi Samizay, “The
result of so many invasions and foreign occupations is a culture made of a
patchwork of contradictory traits...Traces of the past remain in every citizen
and in the physical environment. It is precisely these residual paradoxes
that mirror the mixed historic legacy.” Using the centennial as a guiding
theme, Fragmented Futures seeks to address the ongoing consequences of
foreign intervention, which are key to understanding Afghanistan’s current
struggles to be self-sufficient.
The exhibit expands the conversation beyond depictions of Afghanistan
and its diaspora as either simply victims of imperial agendas or completely
independent of them. Rather, Fragmented Futures sheds light on how
people’s everyday aspirations were interrupted, transformed, and reborn in
both the diaspora and in an ever-changing Afghanistan. This is illustrated
in Yusuf Misdaq’s installation, as “ghostly voices of youth from the past
echo through in the form of spliced and affected spoken-word interviews.”
Several artists and writers have been invited to contribute to a zine
created especially for the exhibit, bringing together art, short stories,
essays, poetry, and scholarship. This zine serves as a unique creative artifact
illustrating the vibrant public life and community building that takes place
in the Afghan diaspora, while the exhibit as a whole critically engages
with the ongoing legacies of empire and war in the Afghan community.
- Gazelle Samizay (CA) and Helena Zeweri (TX),
Exhibit Co-Curators, November 2019
Table of Contents
Poison - Laimah Osman 1
The Long-Lasting Shoes - Susan Saleh 2
Examining the Role of Folklore in the 3
Construction of an Afghan Identity -
Attan - Neda Olomi 6
Musafir - Jamil Kochai 7
Sharbatskulla - Deeva Momand 9
try remembering - Hanna Kherzai 10
On Kings, Films & Astral Nomads - 11
A Script for Cave Paintings - Leeza Ahmady
Azizabad, Afghanistan - Brian Higbee 16
Spooky - Brian Higbee 17
The Night Journey - Seelai Karzai 18
Lida - Arash Azizzada 19
No Justice - Arash Azizzada 19
I See My Mother Fly a Kite in Her Backyard 20
Forty Years Ago - Seelai Karzai
Unknown Artist - Fazila Amiri 21
Musical Scars - Mojib Ghaznawi 23
- 25 (نذر بهار) The Gift of Spring
For Amrika - Malahat Zhobin 27
Genocide - Mohammad Sabir 35
a poem on white space and place and the 37
words that take you there - Hanna Kherzai
Father Tongue - Wazina Zondon 38
“Poison” - Laimah Osman
[letterpress print of poem written by Nadia Anjuman and translated by Diana Arterian and Marina Omar]
The Long-Lasting Shoes - Susan Saleh
Examining the Role of Folklore
in the Construction of an Afghan
[Note: this is an abridged version of a longer essay]
Raised in an Afghan household, I was entertained, educated, and disciplined
with folktales. Despite living across the world from Afghanistan, these tales
transported me deep into its landscape, society, and culture. The tales told
me what my people were like and how they expected me to behave if I were
to be one of them. No matter the tale, they never failed to remind me of
the wise and glorious nation my family was forced to leave behind. In every
tale I read or heard, I was able to find an idealized picture of a unified
and culturally rich Afghanistan. This perception instilled pride in a rich
heritage and promoted a sense of unity even though I had never met another
Afghan outside my family. I clung onto these tales because their illustration
of Afghanistan aligned perfectly with my imaginary motherland. Whether
the tales were religious, cultural, or educational, the underlying presence
of nostalgia, pride, and unity enchanted me. As an exiled Afghan now part
of the diasporic community, I desired to belong to a true singular national
identity. Holding folklore close in my mind magically fulfilled my desires
to belong to a rich heritage. It allowed me to possess an identity albeit it
being one collectively constructed by my diasporic community’s imaginary.
However, understanding folklore as a concept rather than a tool towards
uncovering Afghan-ness, is crucial towards understanding the diasporic
identity. Folklore’s portrayal of culture is a construction, most often
promoted by governmental incentives. The key idea here is that folklore can
be and is used as a political tool if a government needs to create a sense of
unity or when it is pressured by romantic ideals. Folklore is politically liable
and can be used to serve any kind of agenda (Noyes 20). Folklore’s quality
as labile is surprising because folktales are typically taken as unchanging
against the effects of time. This insinuation only adds to its credibility as
concrete rather than plastic and malleable. The power of the folktale lies
in its cunning duality. Generally, one would not be instantly suspicious
of the whimsical and good-natured stories folklore presents itself as. On
the surface level, putting cultural wisdom and historical memories under
trial is not justified. Doing so could be considered an attack on a nation’s
culture or identity. Nevertheless, inspecting folklore’s underlying motives is
warranted when one is able to strip folklore of its enchanting, nostalgic, and
cultural spell. Then, one might find folklore intends to implement political,
social, or cultural reform. The dichotomy between folklore as a cipher of
cultural wisdom and as a political tool with hidden agendas is outlandish,
discordant, and to its benefit. Society may find it easier to receive folklore’s
presentation of itself than to inquire deep into their own social imaginary
and construction of an imaginary homeland.
The power folklore exerts over a nation’s non-exilic citizens and its
imagined citizens scattered around the world is both oppressive and
creative in the sense that folklore cleverly imitates the sensation of
community through manipulation. Community in itself is not oppressive,
but ensuring the idea of a community that is as imaginary as a motherland
is extremely oppressive. Neither the motherland nor the community
exist but are believed to be real. The nation-state manipulatively uses
“community effects” or traits they know will effectively mimic community
behavior and sensations. In essence, the nation state institutionalizes the
concept of community through programs like folklore, national holidays,
and education. At the expense of constructing a certain sensation,
one national community is “capable of replacing other communities,
swallowing them, or combining with them” (Balibar 21). In the case of
the emergence of Afghanistan as a nation-state in the 20th century, the
notion of one community seemed impossible amongst Afghanistan’s ten
plus ethnic groups. Each ethnic group may feel a local sense of community
but never a national one. Although they have been forced to exist as one
overarching term as Afghan for global and national demographics, they
have not been melted into one homogeneous population. The steps towards
nation building, have overpowered and oppressed Afghan communities
with an artificial and dominating sense of homogeneous community.
However, the modern Afghan is not only in Afghanistan, but is part of a
diasporic community throughout the world. Afghanistan has transitioned
from a nation-state to an imagined borderless state haunted by deep senses
Diasporic communities like Afghanistan are filled with refugees that
were either separated involuntarily or were born into diasporic communities
as hyphenated Afghans. Unlike refugees who have clear realities of loss,
hyphenated Afghans are bound by the diasporic community’s fabricated
sense of loss. They cling to the sense of longing for a cultural identity
that might not be inherent to them. Nevertheless, these two divisions are
not exclusionary. As a refugee who was too young to retain memories of
Afghanistan, I did not have an intrinsic sense of longing or loss. I began to
develop my own imaginary homeland not based off memories but based
off folklore and the communal pressure to belong. Only once I became
aware of other hyphenated, exiled, or diasporic Afghans, I began to feel
the pressure to yearn for my loss of a “motherland.” Although the sense
of longing is valid and authentic for every member of the diaspora, there
can often be a prominent social pressure towards feeling a greater deal of
nostalgia and pain for being separated from the “motherland.” Members
of diasporic community often combine and intertwine memories which
might have been nonexistent before. Their narratives create a mixture of
imaginations that ultimately become a space believed as real. Nevertheless,
this space is not a real homeland but a confabulated Afghanistan made up
of individual and collective memories and longings.
Diasporic communities tend to develop intense imaginations because
they are vulnerable to the cultural constructs used to define a nation.
This makes them extremely receptive to cultural productions. They are
receptive to folklore which manipulatively presents itself as an authentic
representation of culture. The diasporic imaginary is deeply entrenched in
narratives written by the outsider dressed as the most authentic insider.
Written tales of the homeland are not painted with true recollections by
the diasporic community or true Afghan “folk”, but are manufactured and
edited images taken by professionals outside of the folk village. Nevertheless,
these images come across as sacred tableaux of lost culture. Appearances to
the contrary, folklore is inevitably involved in the transfiguration of the
realities it represents.
Balibar, Étienne. “Homo nationalis: An Anthropological Sketch of the Nation
Form.” Balibar Étienne. We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational
Citizenship. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009. 11-30.
Noyes, Dorothy. “The Social Base of Folklore.” Bendix, Regina and Galit Hasan-
Rokem. Companion to Folklore. [Electronic source]. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell,
2012. 13-32. EBSCOhost, soka.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.
Attan - Neda Olomi
[oil on canvas]
we were partitioned like flower petals,
littered about the valleys
by the winds
of the blades
of the choppers
of the Marxists
and with our sons
and with our daughters
and our severed limbs
strapped to our backs,
we fled blind into stony black mountains,
our eyes scooped out
our toenails blackened by the hot light of torn extension cords
in the tunnels
we slapped sticks of mud onto our clotted stumps,
attempting to re-form
the trigger fingers
with the rifles
we never fired,
but with our hands gone,
(blown to bits by the fiery blossoms of ancient soviet mines
[shaped to resemble butterflies])
we were unable to touch reconstruct ourselves
so that come sunrise,
before the azhan,
we hobbled out from the shadows
of the fires
and pitched tents of skin
everywhere we went
for many years
for the first time
a trail of our own flesh
across the earth
Sharbatskulla - Deeva Momand
[mixed media, graphite, colored pencils, and digital]
“Inspired by the Mexican community and culture in LA, I took Sharbat Gula, the iconic
National Geographic Afghan girl, and gave her Calavera makeup to celebrate Día de Los
Muertos. This piece is for my ‘Halfghans’, half Afghan and half Mexican friends.”
everything this tongue bars you from.
your only window is the military
men you trust less than you trust in the pursuit of knowledge.
all you know of a land that gave you bones has passed through two lips.
and you love your parents. how
can you trust anyone enough to relay the whole history of a people,
stories build a wardag from fantasy
they told you about things you’ve never held:
fields of mulberries, ponies, and peace (all yours)
it hurts to take a word for what it is
it must be real
they told you it was
On Kings, Films & Astral Nomads
A Script for Cave Paintings
A Sufi Fluxus Production
Time & Location: within the mind of the cosmos throughout the different ages
Somewhere, woven within the fabric of the universe at an unmarked
location imperceptible to the human race and their peculiar reptilian
brains, King Amanullah Khan ponders his earthly reign during the 2nd
decade of the 20th century in Afghanistan. He is asked to evaluate himself
as an interplanetary being, to determine whether he is ready to join a
special plane where Astral Nomads dwell. There he would join the great
energetic body, becoming one with the All. However, this self-evaluation
process requires that he converse with a crossover of consequential figures
across many folds of time so that his spirit as a being and his performance
as king are most thoroughly and objectively appraised. The King is further
instructed to listen silently without justifying his decisions and actions
during these conversations.
Alexander the Great is the first volunteer to offer his introspection
for the King. He is particularly keen on discussing Amanullah’s choice
to send a dozen artists to study art in a place later known as Germany.
The great warrior asks, “Why not choose a place outside your own genetic
makeup, where the artists could prosper more readily from their common
linkages to local narratives?” “Japan, for example,” Alexander continues,
“is a large body of thought that once lay somewhere between Neptune and
Pluto. It is well predicted that its inhabitants will invent a refined heating
system, a knowledge that is forever lost but first archived as a practice
in the annals of Kabul Home Integration and Engineering University,
5th century AD; the system involves family members sitting together on
fluffy electromagnetic door mats and pillows around a large wooden table
under which is placed a pot of hot coal. Large quilted comforters, generally
colorful, sometimes translucent, are thrown over this table providing up to
chest level coverage for the whole family to sit under what’s essentially a
warm and cozy communal bliss. The offspring of these families eventually
replace the burning coal with their minds, which later baffled scientists
everywhere. They somehow learn to radiate warmth by thinking about an
overheated planet in an unknown galaxy called Khurasaan.
“Surely, you see how sending artists to Germany, is a grave mistake on your
part? Given the bio-atmo-philoso-spheric make-up of that site, they will
merely become farmers harvesting terrible rice that only mimics unreality.
Upon their return, they managed to open great schools across what is
known as the Global North, now entirely polluted by the production of the
Global South for generations to come before, thereafter, and in-between.
Eating bad rice also led to new waves of tribalism, spreading exotic rituals
rightfully known as Minimalism. This of course is partially due to the
freezing of Socialist Realist Monumental forests during the Ice Age, which,
back then, led to Conceptual Art wildfires. We all know that lines, dots, and
color are the basis for reality, but where is the fantasy in that? Why else
would banking strategists subject their analysts to think in Miniature grids,
while plastic Surrealism is filling up oceans everywhere?” King Amanullah
is gravely distressed by this unexpected evaluation. At the height of his
wisdom, he imagined his policies were exceptionally progressive. Yet here,
at the gates of a new door, he is an infant—truly perceiving that for all that
his great, short career allowed him to achieve, he did not know much about
dancing after all. But why should Alexander, a conquering adventurer
himself, a local Pathan, be allowed to lecture the King? He has always
criticized Amanullah’s modernist reformations throughout the ages.
Perhaps a foreigner from an altogether different solar system, a woman
of historical importance from the future, would be fairer in her evaluations.
He tries to conjure Margaret Thatcher, but instead Bibi Khadija, famously
known for her heroic role as Prophet Mohammed’s wise and wealthy wife,
appears before him in the form of a verse: “If you want the opinion of a
businesswoman, you might choose someone with a more pious reputation.”
Amanullah is taken aback, but respectfully submits all his attention,
aware that she has always inspired her husband’s followers through her
unwavering support for his chosen path. The king wondered if she thought
about the quasi-yogic postures in the prescribed daily prayers for Muslims.
This had occurred to him on occasion while performing his own Namaaz in
the Mughal Courts of India.
To the King’s surprise, Bibi Khadija’s feedback is also more critical than
he had hoped. She tells him she is there to warn him about his terribly
unavoidable predicament to become the first person to ever hold a lm
camera. And that his stubborn endeavour to document fiction through the
moving image, will likely have him expelled from kingly ranks forever. By
introducing lm to society, you initiated a new exercise, which is as sacred
and as old as the sun, yet as provocative as cave paintings will become one
day. “Unleashing an army of filmmakers across all known planets marks
the beginning of the end of globalization. It is why we will not recognize
folklore in the future and why everything is reduced to food, fashion, and
fasting. Yet, the worst of all consequences is that airports everywhere will
one day look and smell exactly alike!”
Having said what she came to say, Bibi Khadija quickly departs to make
way for planet Uranus’s notorious doctors, Mulla Nasrudin and Joseph
Beuys, co-owners of a secret medical practice registered as Sufi Fluxus
Production in the city of Ramallah’s municipal library.
“Bibi Khadija is right,” begins Mulla Nasrudin, “I usually cross the other
side of the river by scolding someone for being on the wrong side of it,
but now suddenly, I am asked to think about and explain everything! For
a sensible man like me, brainstorming is always unbearable. Which is why
I like to live in just one place. Because when people become accustomed to
your charms, they take your wit along with them. That is how I have gained
my fame across so many planes, geographies, and languages, proving my
genius without much effort.”
“What Nasrudin is saying,” interjects Beuys, “is that filmmaking and
residency programs became synonymous with righteous individualism.
Constant questioning of one’s condition, as opposed to standing by one’s
conviction, exemplifies a bird gone astray, forgetting to fly. It goes against
the hidden order of the cosmos. It moves away from spiritual evaluation and
is a negation of our animal idealism. But before I go on, my premonition
is that you will likely meet Rostam, the champion of Shahnama the Book of
Kings, soon. He is to reincarnate as a shaman in the Mexican–American
frontier. Rostam already has had much experience working with ancient
Assyrian psychotherapists to heal one of the gravest illnesses affecting all
universal planes. The Mayan Calendar calls this illness stress, the Mohicans
called it the disease for overthinkers. I am convinced that Muralists, when
one day they learn how to paint emotion, will rid Homo sapiens off of this
lurking condition.” Nasrudin, who was listening intently up to this point
abruptly interrupts Beuys’s monologue. “Let us get back to our evaluation
here. Sending artists for residencies abroad and making films in my opinion
are examples of sheer backwardness! Who is stupid enough to give up
counting stars at night, a wonderfully relaxing occupation? Who will allow
their household donkeys to be replaced by imperfectly reliable apps such as
Waze for navigation?”
Here, Beuys interrupts Nasrudin to enter a lengthy discussion about
the King’s actual list of merits. They are both particularly impressed by
his abilities to raise an air force, build major dams, decree women to wear
high-heeled shoes, and expel British Martians out of cyberspace, which
initiated the loosening of the colonial grip throughout the whole Siberian
and African continents.
Nasrudin and Beuys jointly agree again that Amanullah is overall
a visionary, courageous, and just king. However, they dispute the
methodology by which they could raise his scores so that he can indeed
enter into the planes of Astral Nomads. They have mixed feelings about his
readiness. Beuys feels what would be most impactful would be for the King
to call on curators from Samarkand, Bukhara, Delhi, and Lisbon to stage an
interplanetary Chinese opera. He argues that the emotional charge of this
newly emerged self-expression could possibly purge the universe from all
left-wing traumatic policies.
Nasrudin disagrees with such a plan. “This would be too easy, why bail
out a deposed, exiled king? Recall that such a plan does not reverse the
planetary shifts that were set in motion by his negligent actions. We must
contemplate whether such actions are irreversible. Do you think planet
Mars is not affected when we smoke Camels down here? So Amanullah must
wake up to the sound of his faithful interference with destiny, resonating
disharmony throughout Jahaan, perhaps for eons. For your information, the
Queen of Sheba has recently offered a major grant for astrophysicists to
study the effects of human action on black holes. So the only way I can
see the Heavenly Council of Youth making a case for our King to enter
their non-entropic realm is for us to prove that humanity has not abolished
selfishness altogether, that it is still a substance in our blood, and that it is,
more or less, as essential as light is to speed.”
“I do not agree with your strange concepts,” Beuys responds, “but for
the sake of having a resolution, I propose something you may concur with.
Let the King commission a gathering of moons, a very large gathering that
will stage a never- ending storytelling event. As we are now running out of
food, I will tell you how this experiment actually turns out, since you were
asleep throughout the event when it took place. Here is how it went down:
Amanullah got up on stage and told a story, which was then retold again by
one moon after another on the same stage. After thousands of moons retold
the story, the pattern became clear. The story told was the same story, only
slightly different; however, each time it was repeated, the story shifted very
slightly to essentially become a new story. It is now an ongoing epic that
can be told by all and claimed by all, for all.
The experiment proved that difference is a real part of our cosmic essence.
It is not an illusion, nor is it a myth perpetuated by our addiction to living
inside the language of objects, and dreams of objectivity.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” replied Mulla Nasrudin. “Only I think you are
a fool to assume that you can put order into perfectly workable chaos. I
think it was wrong of you to cheat. You managed to use your know-how,
the mind games you have always played, to tap into the vast fields of fluid
feelings everywhere. Because what are moons if not powerful receptors
and reflectors of feelings? You manipulated them to interpret this grand
storytelling exercise as one in which the storytellers were not simply
invited to repeat the story as they heard it, but—as you suggested—to retell
the story differently each time, just to prove your point. You have always
despised the principle of Correspondence and now you think you have
proven its nonexistence? Unless the King invites a committee of divine
presences to restage and monitor the experiment, I will not accept you
playing the lute your way! I refuse to participate in an event that is rigged!
Here is my shortlist for committee members: Rabia Balkhi, Simón Bolívar,
Robert Wilson, Nelson Mandela, and of course, Sergey Maslov, the first and
last artist-cosmologist to successfully hack into the Astral Nomads planes
Unfortunately, Amanullah could not submit his self-evaluation documents
to the Committee for Entry to the Planes of the Astral Nomads without
the digital signatures of his two disputing consultants (you know who
they are, so you may want to wipe all traces of their presence in whatever
plane you are now roaming in as soon as possible. Thoroughly wipe their
names off all books, magazines, catalogues, art works, diaries, albums, web
servers, and the like to ensure that they are not assigned to you when you
are ready for your self- evaluation some time in the coming past). The fact
that King Amanullah could not submit his documents in time indicate that
he is now traversing the atmosphere in search for yet another miraculous
reincarnation, possibly as a new species and as part of a former planet he
loved with many moons. He was delighted that his memory was not reset at
the office of the Council for Re-Entry, which means that his spirit was left
intact and that his actions—as troublesome as they had been—still ranked
high enough on the scale to merit him being able to bring his experiences
with him on his new journey.
As the great Su sages claim, having a bit of all of yourself is the best way
to go into nothingness. And so it begins......
Azizabad, Afghanistan - Brian Higbee
Western State Terrorism: The US War on Terror
[oil on canvas]
Spooky - Brian Higbee
Western State Terrorism: The US War on Terror
[oil on canvas]
The Night Journey
In Sunday school, when I first read lessons
of the miraj, the Prophet’s night ascension
and travels through the seven heavens,
I needed a sound, concrete confirmation.
On the miraj, the Prophet’s night ascension,
there are only a few accurate, sound accounts.
And while I still needed concrete confirmation,
I clasped at closed doors, ready to renounce.
Yet I found those few accurate, sound accounts:
illuminated paintings of angels with golden vessels.
And I flung open closed doors, ready to denounce
all who threatened to sell my thoughts to devils.
Within these paintings of angels with golden vessels,
the Prophet and Buraq glide. Her silver wings soar
over those who risked unfaith becoming weapons
in the hands of a cloudy day or becoming lost to
Lida - Arash Azizzada
No Justice - Arash Azizzada
“This image was taken in Sandtown, Baltimore the day after heavy unrest
brought the city to a standstill in April of 2015. These were merely human
beings asking and demanding one simple thing, similar as Afghans have done
for so long: dignity.”
I See My Mother Fly a Kite in Her
Backyard Forty Years Ago
turning the white thread in her hands,
pulling and twisting the handle, black hair
flying free in the wind, face raised up
to the clear, blue sky. No sign of sunset
as the afternoon sun beams down. The wind
howls and howls and my mother’s dress flaps
without a second thought.
Unknown Artist - Fazila Amiri
“For this 17-year-old child bride, the only reprieve from her toxic, abusive
relationship is writing and singing her poetry at the only women’s radio
station in the city of Jalalabad, Afghanistan.”
A tabla player has calluses on his wrists.
A bassist has blisters and bruises.
The trumpet player can rupture his lips.
A saxophonist’s tooth he loses.
But what are the pains of a flute?
What scars does she give?
Because a scar is a sign of healing,
it shows that time has passed.
A scar can be forgotten,
but a wound can’t.
A wound forces you into the here and now.
And hear me now:
The flute, she wounds!
Yet the flute, she soothes.
She knows the very You-ness of you.
The very poem Yunus 1 drew,
she blew into you.
And whether you’ve tuned or not,
Whether a tune or na’at 2 ,
she laces up heartstrings
and sneaks past your thoughts.
She’ll take all that you’ve got,
right on the spot.
And believe it or not:
1 Yunus Emre, 13th century Anatolian poet and mystic
2 Genre of poetry written in praise of Prophet Muhammad (May God grant peace and
honour on him and his family.)
You’ll give it.
You’re in love.
You’ll say that it’s necessary.
Once she’s robbed you of who you think you are,
then the Music begins.
She’s amused and you grin.
The recluse lost within,
you’re the muse, she’s your wind.
Lit the fuse, what a sin!
You’re confused as you spin,
that your tune will have an end.
but you’ve been done in.
The flute, your conjoined twin,
rips off your animal skin,
your original sin of even letting her in.
The song is done
and so are you.
The silence settles in.
You’ve become Truth.
And now you see
the smooth-cut wound.
A tabla player has calluses on his wrists.
A bassist has blisters and bruises.
The trumpet player can rupture his lips.
A saxophonist’s tooth he loses.
But nothing can compare to the pain of the flute.
The Gift of Spring بهار) (نذر - Mehdia Hassan
[ink and watercolor on paper]
Samanak is a gift of spring
Samanak is boiling
This happiness only occurs once a year
It is sweet without sugar
Our father left us behind.
No, that’s not exactly true, though it felt more and more true as time passed.
We left our father behind.
Well, that was closer to the truth, but it lacked the logic that would satisfy
our curious minds. I was six, my brother, Eli, was ten, and our little sister, Reb,
was only two when we said our confused goodbyes to our father on the crowded
streets of Peshawar, right outside the international airport. We were holding on
to our mother as a lifeline while she offered her final goodbye to our father; her
slender hands, her flowing scarf, and her long skirt, each a tether of life for us to
Those were the two small words I thought I heard my father whisper in my
mother’s ear as he kissed her on her flushed cheek. Unknowingly, I suppose
reactionarily, she squeezed my hand in hers till our palms melted into one. I
couldn’t release from her grip, even if I wanted to, but I did not want to, ever.
Did she not like what he wished into her ear?
Those two tangy words mixed with the spicy fritter perfumed air which
became crowded with Reb’s wails; we could no longer hear our father proclaim
his promises to us as we walked away into the crowds of the airport. I think he
promised to see us soon, as his hands frantically waved in the air as if he were
trying to filter it of the distractions that made it so dense and difficult for his
words to reach us, wholly and honestly. All I could see were his wild waves, feel
her blazing grip, and witness our trembling bodies.
Still, all I could hear was, take care.
“We will have to be apart, but only for a little while.”
Ali tried to pronounce every syllable clearly, chewing on the rigidity and reality
of the words he spoke to his young family. He looked at his wife, Rabia; she had a
delicate form and formidable features. She always seemed to be a mystery to him,
but he could trust her; without a doubt, he knew he could always trust her. Their
marriage of eleven years had proven her to be a trustworthy wife.
Ali couldn’t meet her eyes at that moment though. This wasn’t so much a sign
of the trembling that had taken over him as he tried to seek for the right words
to speak to his family but more a consequence of the surfacing shame he felt
underneath his skin, which soon broke into a sweat in the cold September evening.
The idea of leaving his family alone made him shake with a fever. The walls of the
small room they had called home for the past two years in a neighboring country
began to encroach on Ali as his thoughts raced against his heart.
Ali looked at his three children. Eli had his head cast down, hanging low,
hovering over his crisscrossed legs, his fingernails were picking at the seams
that had come undone on his pants. Ali felt a sour disappointment turn in his
stomach. His son was in need of a new pair of pants but soon he would be in need
of so much more. He looked closer at Eli. It was a rare occasion if Ali was so lucky
to meet his son’s eyes, even if for a single moment. Like his mother, his only son
was a deep and distant mystery to him.
Ali’s grazing glance found his youngest daughter Reb asleep in Rabia’s cradling
lap, her cheeks were pink with warmth. He felt a confusing concoction begin
to choke his throat, it was warm like a smile but bitter like the tears he never
cried as an adult. Forcefully, he swallowed it down and released a heavy sigh. He
knew this left Raheel, his older daughter, even though she was only six, she was
his closest confidant. Ali always treated her to be older than her age; he felt that
she understood him, always heard him, and never doubted him. He spent a slow
moment searching her eyes as they grew eager to hear him speak on.
“Listen, you don’t have to worry about me,” he managed to pull a smile together
and looked closely at Raheel, “the UN accepted our case! You all are going to
He impatiently paused for a reaction.
“Did you hear me? Amrika! The UN is sending you to Amrika! They sent us
four tickets in the mail today!”
As hesitant smiles began to grow on the faces of his family, Raheel decided to
push the moment…
“Baba, I don’t understand, why four? We are five people!”
She looked around in panic, presenting her father with, “Madar, Eli, Reb, me
and you! That is five. They need to send us five tickets!”
Her small hand spread wide, every finger proclaiming FIVE, waved in
desperation before her father, then mother, then grew sore in the exertion of the
stubborn stretch. Her voice grew impatient and her big brown eyes began to well
up with unwelcomed tears.
“They will send me a ticket later, I am sure of it.”
Ali felt an inward spiral take hold, his emotions would have drowned him if he
didn’t anchor his tongue with more words.
“They are sending women and children first.”
He looked at his wife with pleading eyes, nearly begging her for help.
“I will be right behind you guys, on the next flight even!”
His facade was frantically fading.
Though Rabia was confused, she read her husband well, she knew his depths
and offered to help him, a slight moment of relief from his overexertion.
In a warm voice, she said, “Ali, what good news you have for us!”
With a genuine smile growing on her beautiful face, “Children, this is amazing
news!” And then with melodic laughter igniting her family to life, “We are going
The foreign taste of Amrika began to sweeten on the lips of the children and
for a slow developing moment, Ali began to memorize the happiness that graced
his family’s faces. This was what it was all for, for this moment of happiness,
for future moments of happiness, their happiness. He rotated the idea of their
happiness in every direction in his head.
Amrika is actually A m e r i c a.
We learned that through the taunts and ugly laughter of the children we met at
school. They made Eli cry before they made me break down, or at least I thought
I saw him cry while he was waiting for me at the school bus stop where we would
unite after long days of merciless teasing. Or, maybe he was just fed up. He had
wiped his face dry before I had reached his side, but his shirt sleeves were unable
to rub off the pink turning red color that puffed his eyes without his consent.
This felt like a betrayal for us both. He didn’t want me to know he had cried,
but his colored face and inflamed eyes betrayed him. I didn’t want him to know
I saw my big brother’s moment of weakness, but the concern that darkened my
eyes as they looked at him betrayed me. Eye contact had felt forbidden then. We
didn’t know enough words in either English or Farsi to clarify the moment. He
smiled at me, accepting the need for surrender. So, I surrendered too. We both
laughed at our shared exhaustion. Nothing really made sense for us still.
The children of Amrika America were different from us, they laughed to
entertain themselves as though boredom chased them, as though idleness and
moments of quiet never lead to peace.
Laughter felt warm and comforting for us, but when they laughed at our broken
tongues that wouldn’t perform their words properly, their laughter was windy
and chilled with evil intent. We knew then that laughter could also be ugly, but
ugliness was nothing new for us. Nevertheless, America was really as beautiful
as our father had described to us. We picked up English quickly because our
mother said we were young, but we knew it was because our father used to teach
us everything he knew. He knew English, but he never came to know that it’s
America, not Amrika.
He was not on the next flight right after us or on the flights that came after that.
We waited in silence, but it was never really quiet. The silence was the absence
of asking why, it was transformed into our own little protests against everything
that was unknown to us, everything that was foreign and frightening to us. We
didn’t have our father to tell us don’t be afraid, slowly being afraid became being
irritated because our spirits were as tired as we were waiting on our lost father.
That was the only logic that our little bodies and hungry minds could digest.
I had begun to spread this idea around our too large apartment. We were used
to living in one room and now we had three, a bedroom for our mother and Reb,
a bedroom for Eli and I, a room they called the living room, so that is where we
lived, always. It was near the kitchen, so it made the most sense for us.
America lived up to its reputation for us, our home was filled with so much
food; we all began to grow faster than our eyes could recognize each other. It
was later on that I learned that the UN had planned for us to have government
support in every possible way. They considered our mother a single mother with
three young children, qualifying her to receive every bit of aid possible. Yes, they
were generous but not generous enough to help us find our lost father.
We needed to fill his memory in our lives, his absence in our large home, so we
began to disrupt the silence that kept our home cold and clean. Reb always cried
for a father she hardly remembered. Day and night, she kept our mom awake,
wearing out her beauty that effortlessly shone on us with an endurance that
confused us more than comforted us. Did she know something we didn’t? Did she
know where our father was?
Eli yelled at everything, never making any sense, always desperate to make
sense of something, so he began to stutter in frustration. Then the stutter stuck to
him, like an intruder it took him hostage, threatening his speech every attempt he
made to speak, so he stopped speaking for a year. When my brother lost his voice,
I didn’t have anyone to conspire with over my ideas of a lost father.
I stopped asking our mother incessantly where he was, when he was coming,
or even why he let us come alone, without him. Reb’s unrelenting cries made his
absence sore, like a bruise changing shapes and colors. We knew our mother was
worried even though she presented us with strength and hope. She would not
keep still, even when she slept, her body roamed the large bed that was meant for
two. Sometimes we would all sleep in her bed, reminding her that she was not
alone, reassuring ourselves that we were not alone.
For the first few weeks, then months, and finally a year, she had called everyone
she knew and didn’t know back home in Afghanistan and Pakistan asking about
our lost father, her missing husband; he appeared to be an unknown man to
everyone. Or was he forgotten? She cried with the release of a broken dam for an
entire week. Then she prayed fervently, and with the passion of the most pious
believers she held an enduring vigil over our home nightly, but then she began to
wilt when the sun rose every morning. Its light spread the truth of his absence in
our home blatantly.
Everything she knew, she told us, speaking out loud, not so much to inform
us but in hopes of discovering a secret or a rhyme hidden within the facts she
collected. It was as though she were trying to knit a parchment of truth or reason
for us to rest beneath, something that would replace her nightly vigils. She could
only hold strong for so long. We knew our mother was growing tired because her
speech brought us foreign ideas and fantastic hopes. Her mind would wander far
from us and her eyes began to look well-traveled.
One day she told us that our father had rewritten and resubmitted our refugee
case to the UN without her knowledge. Our original case which presented us as a
whole family was rejected. In desperation to save our family from the terror and
persecution of the Taliban, our father wrote himself out of our case. He presented
our mother as a single mother with a missing husband, lost at war, perhaps even
Our mother was unable to receive a copy of the case the UN accepted, the case
that would give us some answers, some hope, some closure, the case that saved
our lives… but what about his life? We felt a strange gratitude; he protected us, he
was always protecting us, but gratitude didn’t sit well within us, he didn’t follow
us. Why didn’t he follow us?
He was not missing, or lost at war; he certainly was not dead.
He was not dead!
We knew this because we felt this.
This did not make sense to us. How could our father do this to us?
Rage was what kept us awake at first, then remorse. It was deeper than sadness
and more shameful because it retraced our thoughts and doubts.
How could we not know?
How could we not know he would do anything for us, everything for us?
Then we felt anguish, he abandoned us, and finally disgust, we abandoned him.
He gave us no choice.
You must know something. Anything! Please. He is your closest friend. You must know
where he is, we are his family, I am his wife, I deserve to know.
I am telling you Rabia jaan, the last time I saw him was the day he dropped
you all off at the airport. He didn’t even come back home, or at least I didn’t
see him come back.
That makes no sense! Where would he go? Do you think something happened to him? Oh
Lord, did something happen to him?
I checked the room your family stayed in after I noticed he hadn’t returned the
next day. It appeared he had packed a bag too. I imagined he may have gotten
a ticket on the flight after yours.
That can’t be. He is not here. He is not here!
Rabia jaan, God is with you, please keep your calm. Think of your children. I
am sure Ali is fine. Maybe this is part of his plan you know? He was always,
I mean he is always smarter than everyone. Maybe he is thinking ahead.
Thinking ahead for what? Faruk, you are not making any sense! Just tell me what you
know. How much longer can I lie to my children? I don’t even know the truth.
You know Ali, he is always one step ahead, maybe he needs to be hiding for a
while. They need to believe your husband is really gone so your life in Amrika
Safe? Safe from what? All we want is him, Faruk. All they want is him!
Ali stood before his family desperately recalculating the indefinite measure and
weight of his unsatisfying goodbye to them. He couldn’t bare how ridiculous the
goodbye felt, how absolutely surreal and humiliating it felt. He really couldn’t do
anything more for them, as a man, as a husband, as a father. With them, he would
be holding them back from living a better life, a life in Amrika.
He knew he was doing the right thing but how could he have told his wife and
children the truth? How could he have told them about the new case they were
traveling under? A case without a father, without a husband… a case without him.
They would have never agreed to it. He knew they would have never let him go,
he knew Rabia would have never let him make such a sacrifice, but this was his
only choice, his only way to save his family from the disgusting inhumanity that
was gaining control of their homeland.
He looked at his family, his children were already so far away from him, it was
as though the separation had begun to grow exponentially from the moment, he
told them they were going to Amrika. In that moment, amidst the tumult of the
airport entrance stood his family looking smaller than he could recognize. Rabia
was positioned before him, delicate but beautiful as ever. She held Reb with her
right arm, her little legs were wrapped around Rabia’s waist tightly, her baby eyes
were staring at him intently as if she were trying to recognize him or remember
him. His youngest daughter’s alert gaze sent a chill down his spine that he would
feel for the rest of his life.
He could not yet face Raheel so he looked for Eli. Ali wondered if he would
meet his son’s eyes, if he would be able to finally see him and say goodbye to
him. His growing desire to connect with his son began to twist his stomach
with anguish but his body was immovable. Eli was standing behind his mother,
holding on to her flowing skirt with a grip that anchored him to his only sense
of reality. Ali’s yearning gaze stretched to reach his son, but he could not reach
him. Defeated he knew he had to summon his last bit of bravery and strength to
face Raheel, who was standing beside Rabia, her small fingers interwoven with
her mother’s slender ones.
She looked up at him with her big brown eyes, glazed with stubborn tears.
What could he say to her? He couldn’t swallow any more lies so he fell silent.
Words wouldn’t fit the moment, or at least he didn’t know the words that would.
He attempted to smile at her, to show her some warmth, something worth
remembering but he could not summon his control of his grief-stricken face, so
he leaned in toward his wife. Her soft smell of petals and earth drew him in closer
to her, he kissed her flushed cheek with desperation and searched for something
to say to her.
He meant take care of yourself my beloved wife, please take care of our dear
children, take care of our family, please take care of, be careful of, but his heart
had already begun to grow stone-like, proving speaking to be a difficult task.
Sooner than he imagined, his family slipped away from him into the large crowd
before him. Reb’s crying that carried through the dense air reached his ear, aching
his heart, it marked their position in the mass of people. He waved at them
frantically, he opened his mouth hoping for words to release, any words would be
fine. He wanted to tell him he would see them soon, but the lies cut his tongue
and his hands signed his love for them through the air. He waved them goodbye
with uncertainty of ever seeing them again, and with this thought they were out
of his sight, lost in a crowd of people heading to Amrika.
The last words he had spoken had a spoiled residue on his tongue, so he
thought to spit it out. With this urge, Ali felt his stomach take control of his
body, urging him to rush through the crowd that suffocated him. With a few
desperate leaps against the crowd, he jolted towards a street corner that would
bear the weight of his panic-stricken body. At once, with his arms spread wide
against the wall before him in surrender, Ali began to vomit; a bile of regret and
sudden emptiness spilled from deep within him. A fevered sweat had soaked the
clothes over his shivering body, but it was tears that had drenched his face. A
salty bitterness glazed his mouth as he straightened his body in a desperate act of
He shut his sore eyes, searching for the direction he would need to travel
home, but could he even go could home? He could not imagine setting a foot in
the direction of the home he shared with his family. How could he breathe the
air that was once fragranced by his wife and children? How could he sleep in the
room that once inhaled his family’s every exhale? How could he see children’s
small handprints on the window, his wife’s fresh flowers in the vase on the
windowpane? He would not face their obvious absence, so he set his sight on the
West. He thought to follow the sun until it sets, with nightfall he would find a
place to sleep and by then he imagined would come up with his plan, a plan to
live on for as long as he needed to until he would be reunited with him family.
He thought he would travel for as long as it would take for him to reach them,
to reach Amrika.
Genocide - Mohammad Sabir
[acrylic on human bone]
“Bone is the ultimate indicator of pain. Pain, which, in reality, is an
inexpressible affair and is only felt; in the bone, though, it is seen, heard,
and it has the ability to break. It finds voice; it moans; it screams. I sow
this pain on cloth and leave aside the remains of the shattered body, so
that the bones may remember memories of the skin; that they were once
not bare and dry. And to further remember how pain penetrated the skin
boundary to the bone. If we were to drill a city for mass graves, we would
eventually hit bones—bones that have lost all that they had. If we were to
find the roots of a city’s pain, we, again, end up with bones. A city’s pain
is the pain of its people and bone is the pain’s vertebrae. Pain in the bone
is the ultimate pain. I am the collector of pain and bones.”
a poem on white space and place and the
words that take you there
Home is a one-way arrow to my toes wanting to plant themselves firmly but tugged
along by my heart or my soul and
sometimes my fingertips
when you say you miss home
I want to bring it to your feet
lucky that we go looking for the tablecloth and sour oranges that make existence there
mundane broken into rarity on this side
when you say you miss home, it hurts a little
that I have not created a home for you here between my chin and breast for you to rest
enough to stop missing my strangers
I miss you in front of me
but I know to find you in the exclamation point I send to my mother after I write I
now, know it is the place you want to find that cannot be
I whisper to the place that I am
I often introduce myself as Wazina Zondon
When my name is really
However, according to my computer’s autocorrect
my name is better suited as
on other days: Webzine Condom
As if WEBZINE
is easier to spell than Wazina
somehow my computer thinks it’s an accurate alternative to what I meant to write.
I like to imagine that if I had actually
grown up to become what
the images around me told me
I was supposed to look like after puberty ran it’s course,
there she would emerge:
my bizarro twin,
Tell me the truth though,
am I being too hard on my smart phone?
I just find it really hard to shake off the little red corrective squiggles
You know the one that tells you something is wrong
that tell you something is wrong under my name
like a microaggression, leaving my emotions in a swirl,
leaving me wondering
Am I being too sensitive?
Was I reading too much into this?
Maybe autocorrect is probably just offering me options because what if I didn’t
know what I actually meant to say
I mean, they were just trying to fit me into
boundaries that were never intended for some of us
so who can blame the corrective squiggles?
as brown people,
we learn to fit white people’s names into our mouths
we stretch our lips wide
to make room
while ours get eyes rolled at them
too long surnames,
carrying generations with it,
we split our tongues to fit white names
prioritizing anglicized versions of ourselves
to blend best among the class roster
wondering, worrying if our daughters
at their first roll call
will she recognize her name?
did you know,
it took me years to learn the version of my name
being called out by teachers
That it belonged to ME.
thank god, Zondon is
with a Z
and I’d always be the last called.
Sometimes I forget that
before I was Wazina
Before I was
Z as in Zebra O-N-D-O-N
I was an Ahmadzai
I was a Nazamy
Zondon or Zhwan-doon only exists
because my mother and father, madar and baba
decided to start their own path
start their own last name
within the walls of their marriage and children
a proud new line would come of their love,
Afghanistan & Nazamy, madar’s maiden name
would be left to be remembered only
in the form of password hint questions
what was your mother’s maiden name?
in what city was your father born?
in america, we could be
we can be ambiguous
sometimes only given away by our accents
A little while back,
I begin to make commitments to a few friends here and there
that I will pronounce Wazina, properly.
I mean why not right?
I travel in anti racist circles after all.
I find great charge in interrupting
the continuous bleaching of our tongues
... and then I don’t.
I return to my classic
Oh! Zondon, Zon-DON - however you want to pronounce it,
there’s no such thing as a Zhwa in the American alphabet anyhow.
Later, Alyssa, my white bestie reminds me
that my name isn’t actually
Wazina. Wazina. Wazina.
There’s no question mark at the end of your name.
the desire to create a
palatable version of
is becoming very grading to me
and it’s like eating a meal
missing an essential masala or spice,
it reminds me of my relationship to garlic salt,
as much as I love you garlic salt,
you don’t quite cut it as a replacement spice
for cumin or cardamom
dill, god how I love dill
you are like
A Joe instead of Jose
the crafting of a Gina from Sangeena
Mo from Mohammad
Naz from Nazanin
and my least favorite of all,
Hey Fatty when the person’s name is Fatima
rewind some more to the beginning of 2016
my adulthood has taken a new turn
with a part-time gig teaching teachers, requiring me to work
some Saturday mornings, after a forty hour work week
just like my parents do,
leaving only Sundays for our bodies
to recoup from exhaustion.
One of those first mornings,
in the conference room,
I find myself debating
what to do with a tray of leftover pastries
The excesses of capitalism
in only the ways memories can explain,
ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT IS gouda.
yes, as in the cheese.
baba would bring home cheese and crackers, leftovers from his work
events while we were growing up
When we would call him at work,
although my instincts urge me to ask for
we have to ask for Don
because Don is what the guys at the office start to call him.
Don as in Don Zon-don
You see, at work, baba isn’t baba at all.
And his accent after all these years is gone.
Baba’s name is
and it means,
Miracle from God
So you see, Don is making it.
His accent begins to blend in with the rest of Midtown Manhattan
I’m still standing there,
BREATH stuck in my chest
and inside my tears
with the pastries still in front of me
cringing at how this man, my father
my Zondon co-conspirator
give in and become this version
of new selves
and I try hard not to unzip what I cannot
zip back up
so I promise to myself to defy the so called corrective squiggles that don’t
understand me or us
zubana’e bab’em aych wacht goonge nameysha
my father tongue will never be stifled again.
The following are excerpts from some of the contributors’ artist statements to provide
Poison - Laimah Osman
This poem was written by Nadia Anjuman in the Summer of 2001 in Herat,
Afghanistan. I printed this to honor all the women who have been murdered in
Afghanistan and beyond in misogynist societies.
The Long-Lasting Shoes - Susan Saleh
The piece is a pair of my mom’s shoes that my dad got her in 1993. I drew them
because I realized those shoes have lasted longer than many of the innocent lives
taken due to war in Afghanistan. I drew them because they represent what my
parents have gone through and still go through today.
Examining the Role of Folklore in the Construction of an Afghan Identity - Sara Zhobin
In an attempt toward creating a unifying national identity, Afghanistan in 1914
through 1996 used folklore as a core political tool after its establishment as a
nation-state. Folklore is often used as a political or cultural tool that can create a
sense of community within a nation because it is enchanting, deceiving, and subtle
when it hides behind its self-created masks. Because of Afghanistan’s political
instability, polarizing ethnic diversity, and endless conflict, folklore has had a
greater effect on the Afghan diasporic community than it has on the citizens
that have remained in Afghanistan through conflict. Folklore as an authentic and
sacred representation of a nation’s culture is extremely enchanting to diasporic
communities because they practice traditions of nostalgia and longing for the lost
image of a motherland. Therefore, folklore’s hidden traditions and deceptive masks
have powerful effects in supporting and satisfying the illustration of the diasporic
community’s imaginary homeland. Folklore systematically lies to itself and about
itself. Therefore, folklore as a cultural production is a very complex domain.
Its complexity comes from the fact that folklore’s written tales are considered
simple when they are actually extremely powerful, subtle, and deceptive in the
construction of a “unified” national identity.
Musical Scars - Mojib Ghaznawi
As a first-generation American, my only connection to Afghanistan has been
through the lens of its culture. I find myself lucky that I even have access to that,
as many first-generation Afghan-Americans have lost their connection to culture.
I find myself even luckier knowing that throughout Afghanistan’s history, the
outward expression of culture could be deadly. Even today, music and dance are
prohibited in certain areas of Afghanistan under the Taliban. Fortunately, poetry
survives. My poem is an interpretation of Rumi’s words on the reed flute. Like
many Afghans, Rumi holds a special place in my heart. In his Masnawi, Rumi talks
about the cutting of the reed flute from the river bed. Like the harmonics of the
reed flute, music is only possible when the reed has been hollowed and emptied.
“Musical Scars” is my interpretation of that cutting from the riverbed and the
emptying of myself. I am grateful that it is only a metaphorical cutting, as millions
of Afghans around the world have been forced to flee from their homes. Instead,
my deprivation is time away from my flute, my beloved. I am most myself when I
am playing the flute.
Attan - Neda Olomi
In creating her portrait paintings, Olomi strives to convey the emotions and
moods of her subjects.
Azizabad, Afghanistan and Spooky - Brian Higbee
Western State Terrorism: The US War on Terror is a series of 8x10” oil paintings
that address the brutal violence committed by the United States in an ongoing
campaign of terror against foreign populations in the name of “freedom” and
“democracy.” This western-state terrorism—which includes bombings, remote
drone warfare, tactical strafing, torture, destruction of civilian infrastructure,
and scorched earth policies—is most often filtered out by a complicit corporate
mass media in order to obfuscate imperialist and racist violence in occupied
foreign countries. By positing US aggression as a “humanitarian” endeavor with
“unintended consequences,” and categorizing de-humanized, faceless nonwesterners
as “collateral damage” or as “enemy combatants,” the US is able to
continue a policy of aggression in order to control regional resources for corporate
profit, as well as establish a military and economic advantage while propagating
the Orwellian idea that we must continually wage war in order to create peace.
The Night Journey and I See My Mother Fly a Kite in Her Backyard Forty Years Ago -
When imagining a world free from imperialism and the colonizer’s grasp, it is
necessary to contend with the trauma inflicted by the same. As a daughter of
Afghan immigrants, I have witnessed secondhand the trauma caused by war and
forced migration. The mental clamor caused by this distress results in these poems
about relationships to my religion, to the feeling of not being quite Afghan or
American, and to imagining my mother carefree in Kandahar.
try remembering - Hanna Kherzai
I wrote this poem in my frustration of being unable to access resources about
Afghanistan and its culture and its people. The poem stems from my isolated
experiences in places where I don’t have an easy outlet for eating bolani when I
crave it or speaking with someone in Pashto about crazy shit my cousins have been
up to. Searching for an objective definition of what “Afghan culture” means is
already fruitless within such a diverse country, but that search becomes impossible
when resources or writings by Afghans are inaccessible or require a better grasp
of the written language than I can hope to garner. The only Farsi courses available
to me teach only the Iranian dialect and the only websites that teach Pashto are
catered to US armed forces anticipating to be deployed to Afghanistan.
On Kings, Films & Astral Nomads: A Script for Cave Paintings - Leeza Ahmady
As the founder of FIELD MEETING, an acclaimed annual art forum and signature
program of Asia Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) platform where artists and
arts professionals alike are encouraged to experiment beyond the confines of their
practice, Ahmady wrote a fictional story to convey the plot for an exhibition she
was asked to curate as opposed to writing a conventional curatorial statement.
Prompted by the well-known Pakistani artist Rashid Rana for a publication on
the occasion of the 15-year anniversary of Asia Art Archive, a renowned Hong
Kong-based organization, Ahmady imagined an exhibition that is unlimited by
notions of time and space. This original story thus features the early 20th century
King Amanullah Khan of Afghanistan, whose accomplishments must be evaluated
by a variety of historical figures, ranging from Alexander the Great to the prophet
Mohammad’s wife, Bibi Khadija, in addition to Mullah Nasrudin, and the great
conceptual artist, Joseph Beuys, in order for the king to enter a special cosmic
plane “Astral Nomads.”
The Gift of Spring بهار) (نذر - Mehdia Hassan
Women have the power to feed and nurture, but they are socially and culturally
obligated to do so (Esterik 1999). To what extent is the preparation of samanak
considered obligatory feeding work for Afghan women, and to what extent
is it a leisurely, communal celebration? The social and gendered processes of
making samanak, a traditional Afghan semi-sweet pudding made of cooked
wheatgrass, reflect how cooking, feeding, and eating are strong metaphors for
interdependence, nurturance, and mutual support (Esterik 1999). In honor of
my mother-tongue Dari and my traditional ways of knowing, the series of four
watercolour paintings called The Gift of Spring is also translated to بهار .نذر The
titles of each painting, which are inspired by the lyrics of a traditional Dari song
performed by Afghan women, are inscribed across the top in Dari-Persian. My
four paintings showcase my unique experiences and memories of performing
samanak food practices in the Afghan diaspora.
The last painting [It is sweet without sugar] is sarcastically titled for the various
health benefits of samanak that I have been told about; it also reflects my
intense dislike of samanak’s semi-sweet taste. The Gift of Spring makes visible the
productive tensions between Afghan women’s simultaneous vulnerability and
empowerment through food (Esterik 1999).
For Amrika - Malahat Zhobin
With a deep respect for her history and a reverence for writing and poetry, Zhobin
seeks to infuse her work with the richness of her Afghan-American identity. Her
works are the woven parchments of a displaced woman who seeks to slowly pull
on her roots, braiding their memories, dreams, and realities into words that may
re-paint, re-play, and re-praise her past, present, and future.
a poem on white space and place and the 38 words that take you there - Hanna Kherzai
This poem deals with our notions of what home means. It was written for a friend
who was unable to return to their home in Iraq due to the Muslim Ban. Conflicted
feelings came along with this separation for me as someone who does not share the
same clear idea of what home is as they do.
Father Tongue - Wazina Zondon
The conversation swirling around LGBTQ identity in America is often collapsed
with news of piecemeal marriage equality wins, debates, trials and wins/losses—as
if those are my desires for my queer identity. They are not. As a woman of color,
an Afghan woman living in America, the breadth of the boundaries of my desires
and wants are unknown and undefined for myself and yet I live in a country where
the boundaries of who I am, what I want, what my people are like is defined for
me by everyone else. As a queer Muslim woman, partnerships and romance are
fraught with negotiating how does love grow healthily between us. What are
the cooperative possibilities and capstones all the while resisting compatibility
with imperialism and heteronormativity. Newly, as a person with faith in love/
as a person of faith, in love, I search for the places and ways to heal and love
Born and raised in Afghanistan, Leeza Ahmady is an independent curator. She
has been the director of Asia Contemporary Art Week (ACAW) since 2005.
Connecting New York and Asia’s leading institutions in citywide exhibitions and
public programs, she has showcased the work of 2,000 artists over the years.
Rona K. Akbari is a digital media producer and filmmaker based in NYC. You can
find her work in major publications such as NPR, BuzzFeed, National Geographic,
and Complex Magazine. She also does comedy and enjoys making zines, like the one
you are holding right now. Follow her at @theronalisa.
Arash Azizzada is a filmmaker and photographer. In the past decade, he has shot
music videos and short films, and captured protest movements in the United
States. He is also a community organizer in the Afghan diaspora in the US,
focusing mostly on civic engagement and progressive advocacy.
Mojib Ziarmal Ghaznawi plays the Western classical flute, Indian Bansuri, and the
Turkish and Persian neys. Mojib is interested in topics of spirituality, mysticism,
asceticism, and aestheticism which he explores through his work at the Reed
Society for Sacred Arts, creating programming for sacred artists and aspirants.
Mehdia Hassan is an artist-researcher. She critically and creatively explores the
intersections of visual arts, health, and equity by integrating the visual arts in the
research process and using creative methodologies to inquire about health and
illness. She holds a Master of Arts in Social Justice.
Brian Higbee is the founder of the Associated Artists for Propaganda Research,
Minimalism Elite, and the Future Living Projects. He holds a BFA from Indiana
University of Pennsylvania and an MFA from CW Post/Long Island University.
He’s the recipient of two grants from the Puffin Foundation.
Seelai Karzai is a poet, community organizer, and chocolate enthusiast from
New York City. She writes about the experiences of marginalized and displaced
communities. Her writing has appeared in the Newtown Literary Journal, DASH
Literary Journal and elsewhere. She is currently an MFA student at the University
Hanna Kherzai is passionate about writing and public health. She worked with
the Global Health Institute in Barcelona and COPE, a non-profit focusing on
improving health outcomes for the Navajo Nation. In the future, she hopes to
work as an ob/gyn, specifically in developing nations with significant healthcare
Born in an Afghan refugee camp, Jamil Jan Kochai was a Truman Capote Fellow
at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He is also the O. Henry Prize winning author of
the debut novel 99 Nights in Logar, which has been longlisted for the DSC Prize for
South Asian Literature.
I’m Deeva Momand, or ‘TheAfghanDiva,’ and my main influence and inspiration
is my Afghan background. I have noticed a lack of representation of Afghans,
especially Afghan women, in the media and art world. I want to challenge
perceptions of Afghans not only to non-Afghans but also within the Afghan
Sahar Muradi is a founding member of AAAWA. She is co-author of A Ritual in X
Movements, author of the poetry chapbook [ G A T E S ], and co-editor of One Story,
Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Contemporary Afghan American Literature. She lives
and poets in NYC.
As a young girl in Afghanistan, Neda Olomi always wanted to draw and paint.
Now, she works as a Speech and Language Pathologist, and in her spare time, she
creates realistic paintings in oils and pastels. She loves to paint and has challenged
herself to learn different styles and techniques.
Artist and educator Laimah Osman creates drawings, prints, and artists’ books.
She was awarded residencies at The Lower East Side Printshop, Kala Art Institute
and Women’s Studio Workshop and received grant recognition from the Brooklyn
Arts Council and the Jerome Foundation. Currently, she teaches at Parsons School
Mohammad Sabir is a lecturer in the Graphic Design department of Kabul
University. He has studied graphic design at the University of Art in Tehran, Iran
and is currently pursuing his MA at Kabul University. He has exhibited at the
American Embassy in Kabul and at Kabul University.
Encouraged by her parents, Susan Saleh has been drawing her whole life. Inspired
by Disney and the Captain Underpants books, now Susan is passionate about both
art and public health. She hopes one day to be able to combine both passions, such
as creating health education resources for Farsi communities.
Gazelle Samizay’s artwork has been exhibited internationally, including at
Whitechapel Gallery, London; the California Museum of Photography, Riverside;
and the Slamdance Film Festival, Park City, UT. Her work is part of the
permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Center
for Photography at Woodstock, NY; and En Foco, NY. She received her MFA in
photography at the University of Arizona.
Helena Zeweri is a founding member of AAAWA. She is currently a PhD
Candidate in Anthropology at Rice University. She has published work in the
International Feminist Journal of Politics, Anthropology News, and the Political and Legal
Anthropology Review, and has taught courses on humanitarianism and human rights
Coming from a lineage of writers and poets, Malahat Zhobin is naturally inclined
toward the arts. The writer, poet and artist is currently working on her MFA in
creative writing from Mount Saint Mary’s University. For her culminating master’s
thesis, she’s writing her debut novel which is set in Afghanistan.
Afghan-American writer Sara Zhobin recently graduated from Soka University
of America with a Liberal Arts Bachelor’s degree with a concentration in
Environmental Science and Humanities. She is now attending the University of
Southern California for a Masters of Arts in teaching.
Wazina Zondon is a sexuality educator and trainer who focuses on intersectional
identities. In partnership with Terna Tilley-Gyado she is the co-writer and coperformer
of Coming Out Muslim: Radical Acts of Love, a performance capturing the
experience of being queer and Muslim. She’s included in Advocate Magazine’s 2019
Champions of Pride and featured in HBO’s OutList.
This zine is sponsored by:
Afghan American Conference’s Community Initiatives Challenge grant.
Glendale Library Arts and Culture’s ReflectSpace Gallery
Afghan American Artists’ and Writers’ Association
aaawa.net | @aaawa_art | fb.com/aaawa.net
Marking the centennial of the “modern Afghan state”, Fragmented
Futures is an unprecedented exhibit that employs art, writing, film, and
scholarship to probe the ongoing consequences of foreign
intervention in Afghanistan and the future of its diaspora. The exhibit
expands the conversation beyond prevailing depictions and sheds
light on how Afghans’ everyday aspirations continue to be
interrupted, transformed, and reborn in both the diaspora and in an
ever-changing Afghanistan. This zine was created specifically for the
exhibit and features art and writing that prompt us to reimagine
Afghanistan, its people, and their many futures. It is meant to stand as
its own knowledge artifact—a unique artistic object that archives and
establishes diasporic voices. Situated amongst more well known texts,
its very presence is an intervention into the canon.