By Shiraz Fazli
Summer 2021 Issue
In February, I read a press release about the show United States of Al, a sitcom from the creators of Big Bang Theory. The show is about an Afghan interpreter who comes to the United States to live with his best friend, an Army veteran. While there was a list of things that initially troubled me about the show, one of my biggest concerns was how it contributed to the dehumanizing narrative of Afghans being solely victims of war. After following the outrage and critiques from other Afghans on social media, I decided to start a project called “Afghan Story Gallery.” I asked Afghans to send me their stories: the joyful, melancholy, or mundane. In turn, I repost the stories to my Instagram account along with a piece of art drawn by me and inspired by their story.
My motivation for this project was to reclaim the task of representing Afghans, and put it into our own hands instead of relying on outside sources to do the job for us. Productions such as U.S. of Al use the stories and labor of people of color with the intention of centering a white audience. The goal of my project is to center Afghans by creating content by and for Afghans. When non-Afghans come across my work, then maybe they can see what art made by and for Afghans can look like.
The following is a story submitted by my father to the Afghan Story Gallery project, along with my artistic interpretation of it.
“Back in Zahir Shah’s time when I was a high school student, one day my father gave me an envelope to take to the Ministry of Justice in person, to Mohammad Anwar Arghandiwaal who was a close friend of my father. The Justice Ministry was located in the Microrayon neighborhood in Kabul in a four story building, and the Minister’s office was on the fourth floor.
As soon as I entered the ministry, I saw a long line of petitioners starting on the first floor and going up the stairs to the fourth floor. I took my place on the line and patiently waited to see the minister. Soon, I heard the minister was leaving the ministry for a meeting but as he was coming down the stairs, he was taking the petitioners’ petition and was passing it to his secretary with instruction and assuring them of appropriate action regarding their complaints.
On the second floor a Kouchi woman complained to the minister that that morning, she sold a khoumra [clay dish] of yogurt to a man in the nearby neighborhood but the man refused to pay her. The minister summoned a police officer and instructed him to accompany the Kouchi woman to that man’s house, get the yogurt money from the man, and arrest him for his action.
In today’s Afghanistan, not only you can’t see a government minister, you cannot see any high or low level government official. Not only that, you can’t even walk on a street that a high level government official or a parliament member works or lives.”
Shiraz Fazli is an interdisciplinary artist born and based in Brooklyn, New York. In drawings, paintings, and videos, she visualizes the ghosts of the past and the undefined location of those who wander. In doing so, she finds inspiration in the constantly changing landscape of time. Her menacing figures entangle with each other as they overlap, collide, and multiply over abstract spaces, demonstrating humanity’s inherent interconnectivity through the chaos. She is currently collecting stories from Afghans around the world and making art inspired by them. If you would like to be a part of this project, contact her through her website.