Despite the perils, Afghan artists have consistently portrayed their country and its many facets.

The artist Kubra Khademi in a street performance in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2015. A crowd of men appeared “insulting me and making fun of me,” Ms. Khademi said.

By Farah Nayeri

Jan. 15, 2020

On the afternoon of Feb. 26, 2015, the artist Kubra Khademi strapped a suit of metal armor over her clothes and headed outside. The armor, which she had cobbled together in the workshop of a local blacksmith, had bulbous breasts and an ample bottom. It was the centerpiece of a carefully planned street performance.

Only this wasn’t just any street: It was a busy thoroughfare in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sheathed in her bulging suit, Ms. Khademi walked along the road in a silent eight-minute performance. By the time she left, traffic had stopped and a mob of menacing men had formed.

“They were insulting me and making fun of me, saying ‘She’s crazy, she’s a foreigner, she’s lost her mind, she’s a prostitute,’” the artist recalled in a telephone interview from Paris, where she now lives. “Yet, had I not put on this performance, I would have been unhappy. It was a complete success. It shook everyone up, and brought the debate brazenly out into the open.”

Ms. Khademi said her performance reflected everyday reality for women in Afghanistan, who face sexual harassment and aggression everywhere — at home, at work, on the street.

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