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Sunday, March 26

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Author Mon Jul 22 2013

Poetry Foundation Exhibit Glimpses Lives of Afghan Women

The photography exhibition currently at the Poetry Foundation gallery (61 West Superior Street), Shame Every Rose: Images of Afghanistan, combines poetry and imagery in a compelling way. Seamus Murphy, an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, traveled to Afghanistan with journalist Eliza Griswold, and the results of their work--featured in the June 2013 issue of Poetry, in addition to the exhibit--are both arresting and important. These aren't images you've ever seen.

Poetry's June 2013 issue is devoted entirely to a form of poetry from Afghanistan called a landay, which functions as a couplet; it's comprised of twenty-two syllables, with nine syllables in the first line and thirteen in the second. The landay is chiefly the province of the women who belong to the Pashtun people--an ethnic group within Afghanistan--and its existence goes back centuries. Accompanying these landays are images from Afghanistan captured by Seamus Murphy over an eighteen-year period. Eliza Griswold leads the reader through the history behind the landays, and the world of the women she encounters, which is often one of subjugation and silence. Landays, however, are strong stuff--the word means "short, poisonous snake", which speaks volumes about their tone and content. death, sex, sorrow, love, Americans, the Taliban--universal and specific themes alike combine to create brief, powerful poems. Poetry becomes a form of protest.

The photography exhibit pairs the pictures in twos in order to emulate the landays, and the results are beautiful (and unnerving). In one set of images, the first shows a man peeking at a woman who watches him over her shoulder from a short distance; the second shows a blood-red slab of meat slung over someone's back. In another, stacks of scrolls are paired with birds in flight. Blood, flowers, burqa-clad women: all of these and more make appearances, and the viewer is challenged to connect the emotional dots between the words of a poem and the images of a photograph. Part of the response to any work of art is an attempt to relate, and in this instance--confronted not only by the intersection of poetry and photography, but by the existence of a world so different from our own--time must be taken to stop, look, and process. The results are rewarding.

The exhibit is free and open to the public through August 24. I highly recommend not only making the trip to see it; make sure to read the June issue of Poetry, and to watch Snake, a short film Seamus Murphy created while in Afghanistan. Appreciate the artistry behind the photographs and the beauty of the landays, but appreciate, too, the opportunity to learn more about the stories that lay behind them. These are faces that should be seen and voices that should be heard.

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