The paradoxical burqas

Sahraa Karimi is an award-winning Afghan filmmaker based in Kabul-Bratislava-Tehran, whose films are mostly about women. In one of her films there is a naked woman in a room dancing under a blue burqa while a light wind is blowing and a mystique sound of music is accompanying the movements of her body; this was  the most surrealistic image I’ve ever seen in an Afghan film. Indeed very captivating and well-crafted as well. The two contradicting ideas of nakedness and hijab were shown in one single body.

In most Afghan movies and in most foreign movies about Afghanistan, the burqa is a compulsory element. It’s aesthetically, dramatically and ideologically necessary to show an Afghan woman in a burqa to give  a believable sense of Afghanistan to the story.   Although a large number of Afghan women both in urban centers and rural areas appear in public without burqas, we cannot overlook the blue streetscape in some smaller Afghan towns were women have a very limited access to personal freedom. So burqa is there on streets, even though some of our “progressive” women may don’t like it.

There is another independent Afghan film called Sunglasses by Mustafa Kia, a young filmmaker in Kabul, who has also used the burqa in a paradoxical way – and probably realistic as well.  In this short film that you can watch the full version here, a woman under burqa goes to bazar and buys a pair of fancy sunglasses.  She never takes off the burqa while in the public, so one wonders why she needs sunglasses anyway? The answer is at the end of the film, but the whole story is very meaningful and thought-provoking – if you forgive the quality of the image.

It’s summer time in Kabul, and burqas get more interesting on streets, you will see a lot of women under burqa who hold an umbrella as well to protect themselves against the sun light. Well, if you don’t have a burqa and you got an umbrella that is understandable, given the burning sun of Kabul in summers. But if you are already under a burqa which is totally sun-proof, why do you have to carry a half kilo umbrella on your head to exhaust yourself even more? I think these type of women are missing the raison d’etre of the umbrella and following the fashion in a wrong way! — unless all of them are surrealist artists who are participating in a city-wide show of performance art, that we are not aware of.


I’m not done yet, I’ll come back to Afghan women’s sense of style later again- and again!


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