Phyllis Chesler Interviews Carol Gould

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An Unforgettable Evening for Afghanistan
Last uploaded : Friday 27th Mar 2015 at 13:17
Contributed by : Carol Gould



A remarkable evening at King’s College spearheaded by the King's Afghan Welfare Society in the depths of a damp London winter focussed not just on images from Afghanistan but on women. No, I don’t mean the usual lamentations on the bullying by the Taliban or girls being afraid to go to school -- though indeed still worrying -- but I refer to the gifted artist Arabella Dorman, whose work was on display, the BBC’s Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet, who addressed the audience and the dynamic Amanda Curley, one of the Afghanaid masterminds of the large event. Inasmuch as the superb catering was by Shakilla Karimi, the King's Afghan society organiser known for her fine cooking, it was a triumphant evening for the female of the species, the original 2014 'Before the Dawn' exhibition having been sponsored by a generous young ( male!) Afghan entrepreneur, Mirwais Alizai.

I first came across the brilliance of Arabella Dorman in 2008 when her work in Iraq and Afghanistan was shown at the Imperial War Museum; Afghanistan is, for some Americans, in our DNA and I was very much aware of her commitment to depicting the experiences of Coalition troops. The event in aid of Afghanaid at King’s in February, ‘Before the Dawn,’ coincided with the final drawdown of British troops. I walked into the large exhibition room and was struck by one of her most compelling works: a portrait of a British soldier surrounded by thumbnail images of every serviceman and woman who had perished in the field. Around the room were the tableaux of both war and ‘normalcy,’ including images of rural life and , as the accompanying brochure states, ‘a journey through the dusty landscapes of Helmand province, along the roads of Afghanistan’s recent history and into the everyday lives of Afghan families.’ Contrasting vestiges of joy in ‘The Dance,’ of fear in ‘Through a Glass darkly’ and of despair in ‘Struggle to Survive,’ Dorman uses oil on canvas as well as charcoal to evoke the environment of uncertainty amid blowing sand, the safety of a small house and a soldier’s patrol. Her work is historic because she has, in many journeys, captured the essence of a people and a country at once mired in conflict but at the same time bravely surviving -- still able to dance and smile..

She says ‘What I try to paint is the experience of the individual, the poignancy behind the frontline, the humbling truth beyond the headlines…In essence, it is the silent spaces in between; it is the human face of conflict.

Afghanaid’s supporters and officials were present at the King’s College exhibition; their work focuses on skills training for the poorest in Afghanistan. The fundraising leaflet reminds potential supporters that a donation of £25 can pay for sanitation and hygiene training for thirty women; £40 can buy enough fruit saplings for a woman to feed her family from a private orchard and £100 can pay for basic bookkeeping training for six women, setting them up to run a small business. £250 can build an outdoor latrine for a family, reducing the risk of disease and £520 can buy blankets, clothing and shoes for children who suffer so terribly during the cold winters. £1,500 can build a new family home.

As the BBC’s Lyse Doucet pointed out in her address to the gathering a donation of £12 is nothing if it means providing a family with a lifesaving water filter. Her many years covering the region and reporting in award-winning documentaries about childbearing in Afghanistan and about the country the world rarely sees, gave her an insight into the background of both Arabella Dorman’s paintings and of the work pursued by Afghanaid. Needless to day after her talk young people -- many from Afghanistan, Iran and other countries, studying or working in London -- gathered around Doucet to absorb further wisdom from a seasoned journalist.

The evening was organised with great spirit by Amanda Curley of Afghanaid; I encountered many outstanding individuals who work tirelessly for causes needing perpetual care including Elizabeth Winter of BAAG (British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group) who has been travelling to Afghanistan since the 1980s.

Inasmuch as it was a Friday night I reckon I was the only Jewish attendee but I would not have traded the experience even for a proper Shabbat observance. I felt privileged to be amongst so many selfless supporters of Afghanaid and to witness the history of the country through Arabella Dorman’s exquisite work.

To find out more about Afghanaid: 0207 065 0825

Arabella Dorman:
Carol Gould is a journalist and former drama executive at Anglia TV for ITV/PBS Masterpiece Theatre. Her film ‘Long Night’s Journey Into Day’ at the 1997 Berlin Festival foresaw the breakdown of life in the region after the death of Yitzhak Rabin. She appears on al Alam, al Kawthar, Islam Channel and Press TV as well as on BBC broadcasts about US affairs.

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