When Peggy Kelsey met a group of 14 Afghan women in the fall of 2002 in Austin, Texas, she was inspired by their strength, motivation and activism. In 2003 Kelsey traveled to Afghanistan, and from her experience there grew her photography project “Portraits of Afghan Women.”
Kelsey says that when she first arrived in Afghanistan, she was discouraged by the political events affecting the country. Upon meeting the women, however, she experienced a feeling of optimism.
“To see the women’s strength and resilience encouraged me,” Kelsey says.
Kelsey’s portraits, which can be seen at the Whiteaker Last Friday Art Walk, convey as much about Afghan culture as they do about the women in the photographs. Every photo features a woman expressing her identity, whether she’s laughing, gazing off into the distance or even holding up her own artwork. And, of course, almost all of them are sporting traditional Afghan garb — colorful hijab headscarves, arms and faces adorned with gold jewelry.
Taking a minimalist approach to the photographs, Kelsey positioned her subjects in front of neutral-colored walls and focused on the women’s expressions. And each photo is accompanied by a story. Kelsey interviewed and photographed more than 40 women, including teachers, doctors, members of parliament, artists, film directors and businesswomen. Despite the varying occupations of these women, however, each held a common desire to fight for women’s rights and equality in Afghanistan; each voiced a wish to see the next generation grow into stronger, well-educated people with the ability to lead a higher quality of life.
Kelsey says she wants the viewer to make a personal connection with the Afghan women. “The courage [these women] show is something we have in ourselves,” she says. “We just haven’t had the chance to show it yet.”
“Portraits of Afghan Women” is showing Friday, May 25, at the Community Alliance of Lane County at 458 Blair Blvd.; FREE.