This is how beautiful defiance can be.
Back in 2007, the city of Kabul, Afghanistan was filled with the children of families destroyed by the war. Nearly 60% of the ravaged country was under the age of 16, and many of those young people were orphans. Young boys played soccer and rode their bicycles in the streets, but for young girls such activities were prohibited.
That’s when a small haven was created called Skateistan. It was started by an Australian aid worker and skateboarder named Oliver Percovich, who had captured the interest of the local kids when he was doing tricks in a disused water fountain. He provided the kids boards of their own, and soon there was a small community of skaters gathering at the fountain every day. And, since skateboarding was new to Afghan culture, there were no taboos about who could participate. Yes, the girls were welcome to join in! Soon after, Percovich created the non-profit NGO Skateistan, which provides needy children with education and support in the morning, and a safe place to skate in the afternoon.
In 2012, an English photojournalist named Jessica Fulford-Dobson read a small blurb about Skateistan in her local paper. Intrigued, she grabbed her camera and booked a flight for Kabul. When she arrived at Skateistan, she was greeted with cynicism, but over time she gained the young girls’ trust. She shot portraits of the skaters in 2013, was forced to leave Kabul due to ongoing conflict, and then she returned for more portraits in 2014.
In September 2014, when the National Portrait Gallery in London announced the finalists for the prestigious Taylor Wessing Prize, one of Fulford-Dobson’s portraits, “Skate Girl,” was the first runner up. On April 15, Fulford-Dobson’s exhibition, “Skate Girls of Kabul,” opened at the Saatchi Gallery. And just like that, the resilient spirit of a generation of Afghan women was there for all to see.
They are students and they are athletes. They are defiant and they are colorful.
They are simply beautiful.