Meet the ‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ through photo exhibition

Series of portraits show young girls participating in a unique programme called Skateistan

Dubai: A new photo exhibition showcasing a series of striking portraits of young Afghan girls skateboarding in Kabul opened at the Ismaili Centre in Dubai on Tuesday.


Captured through the lens of award-winning photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson, the ‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ tells the story of a group of young women participating in a unique charity programme that provides skate parks as a means of enabling girls from disadvantaged families to return to the educational system.

The engaging photographs on display bring to life the powerful spirit of the young girls as they confidently glide down ramps in their flowing traditional clothing and also captures them as they stand proudly holding their skateboards in a country where it is considered taboo to even ride bicycles.

Organised by the Ismaili Centre in Dubai in collaboration with the Agha Khan Museum in Toronto, Roshan and the Consulate General of Canada as part of Art Week 2018, the installation of 24 photographs presents an uncomplicated celebration of childhood and girl power, said organisers.

Speaking to Gulf News about her journey to Kabul to document the young girls, Fulford-Dobson said she had come across the programme called Skateistan in late 2012 which had made it a mission to empower children and youth through skateboarding and education. The international NGO was founded in 2009.

“It was the story about the girls that I wanted to capture, and I had to convince [the organisation] to allow me to do it. I was after it because as a little girl I didn’t skateboard, even though I was brought up very free, but there were preconceived ideas that it’s more of a boys thing … Then here in a very conservative society, girls were allowed to do that,” she said.

Fulford-Dobson visited Skateistan in 2013 and later 2014 for a total of six weeks to complete the entire collection. “I thought there’s some hope and happiness here and we all need that. As an artist, you realise people want to be shown things that are uplifting and empowering.”

The exhibition, which is part of a global tour, welcomes visitors with huge images of young skater girls, emphasising the message of “girl power”. The installation is accompanied with recordings of laughter and screaming from the skate park which are played out loud.

“I chose to do this so it can be all encompassing for the visitor as they can come in and see figures that almost come alive. A few visuals and short films have also been added to tell the story.”

Amiruddin Thanawalla, president of the Ismaili Community in the UAE, said very rarely does a photographic project really evoke such emotion, but Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s ‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ makes viewers believe that the world can be a beautiful place for everyone.

“The exhibition also highlights the crucial role of education in society — an area which His Highness the Aga Khan has been deeply engaged with, through the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) both in Afghanistan and other parts of the world,” he said.

He added that “AKDN’s approach is based on the belief that comprehensive area development, led by Afghan institutions, built on partnerships between government, business and civil society, is the surest way to secure Afghanistan’s transition to stability and prosperity. In order to achieve area development, all partners must make long-term commitments, and coordinated investments to prioritise the improvement of the quality of life”.

The portraits have been collected into a book entitled

‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ which will be launched in Dubai on March 23.

The exhibition is open to the public from Thursday to Sunday.

What: ‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ photo exhibition

Where: Ismaili Centre, Dubai

When: Exhibition runs from March 22 to 25, from 11am to 5pm

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