Art as a Voice for Afghan Women
2015–16 AAUW International Fellow Mahnaz Rezaie has dedicated much of her time as a photojournalist, documentary filmmaker, writer, and poet to advocating for the rights of Afghan women. For Rezaie, art offers multiple ways to “capture terrible odds and discrimination [and] … protest against social and cultural injustice.”
Born in Afghanistan, Rezaie fled the country with her family and they moved to Iran when she was 8 years old to avoid the Taliban. She won a scholarship from Middlebury College in Vermont, where her advocacy work gravitated toward helping the women of Afghanistan. “I have seen the difficulties of Afghan women around me,” she shared with us. “I have felt their pain and I know their wishes. I advocate for Afghan women because it is advocating for my right, for [the] rights of my sisters and other close women around me.”
Her fight for Afghan women’s rights has not gone unnoticed. In 2014 she was honored at the Women in the World Summit in New York for her short film, which explores how wearing the hijab affected her relationships when she first arrived in the United States.
Through her various art forms, Rezaie has sought to examine the diverse and complicated issues that Afghan women and girls face on a daily basis, including pursuing an education, finding a voice in Afghan society, and navigating the sensitive and complicated issue of the burqa. Most recently, Rezaie has worked on addressing these issues, and others, by organizing different Afghan women’s reading events at universities, working on the launch of an annual Afghan film festival in Washington, D.C., and starting the Blue Wings Project with the head of her department at George Washington University (she’s pursuing a master’s degree in photojournalism from GWU’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design). The Blue Wings Project, which is designed to make international connections between writers and artists from all disciplines, recently invited Corcoran undergraduate and graduate photojournalism and new media students to join an online forum where they read and responded to the writings of women authors living in Afghanistan.
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Rezaie also has a passion for poetry, and her Deep in Blue was published in Of Note magazine’s special issue on the burqa. “I believe it is easier to make connection to people’s hearts through poetry than prose,” she says. “Poetry is not just inspiring and healing for the audience but it is for the poet as well. I usually write poems when I am hurt, pained, and angry.”
Currently Rezaie’s main goals are to become a “successful visual artist” and human rights advocate. She credits the AAUW fellowship with giving her the opportunity to continue her education. “I only had partial financial aid from Corcoran,” she recalls. “I spent my year in 2013 looking for scholarships and was lucky to find information about AAUW. AAUW enabled me to [pursue] graduate studies and … has opened doors of opportunity.” Her work and art will continue to advance her advocacy for Afghan women at home and abroad.
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