Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: The Women

Magazine article The New Yorker

The Talk of the Town: The Women

Article excerpt

One recent evening, a few days before the troops of the Northern Alliance took Kabul, a cultural center in the East Village called A Gathering of the Tribes hosted a reception featuring art and poetry by Afghans living in New York. At the center, which occupies the second floor of a narrow brownstone tenement, a bedsheet served as the screen for a video projection, and an American flag as the scrim for a shadow dance, performed to tambourine and drum music, its backlit stripes suggesting prison bars.

Most of the artists at the reception were children of the Afghan diaspora. These are the sons and daughters of educated, liberal families who fled during or just after the Soviet invasion. "We've been in pain for twenty years," said Laimah Osman, the co-curator of the show. "After the World Trade Center, I went to dozens of candlelight vigils, and they helped. But it occurred to me that I'd never been to any organized public mourning for all the lost Afghan lives. So we put this evening together."

One of the participants was Zakarya Sherzad, a gentle-spoken forty-two-year-old writer and musician who read an elegy for the World Trade Center dead. In 1978, Sherzad was arrested and spent six months in a Kabul prison before Amnesty International arranged his passage to Switzerland. A few days after the reception, when news came of Kabul's fall, he expressed what appears to be a common feeling in the Afghan-American community: "I'm glad that a tyrannical government has been overthrown, but the vacuum--and the looming chaos--are very scary, because the last time the Northern Alliance came to power there was widespread rape, murder, and corruption, which paved the way for the Taliban takeover."

Shekaiba Wakili, a thirty-one-year-old photographer who had lent five portraits of Muslim women to the show, was celebrating the end of what, in the wake of September 11th, she had called the Taliban's "psychotic fundamentalism" and "gender apartheid. …

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