By: Caroline Newman | University Communications
University of Virginia graduate art student Zuhal Feraidon, who was born in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, is using her art to change perceptions of Afghan women at home and abroad.
“What I am trying to achieve is empathy,” said Feraidon, who is an Aunspaugh Fifth-Year Fellow in UVA’s McIntire Department of Art. “I want people to connect with my subjects. Art allows you to feel, and that is something that I want to access.”
This mission recently earned Feraidon a rather unusual accolade; the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities named her a “Dangerous Woman.” The institute’s Dangerous Women project invites female artists, poets, writers and activists to write essays reflecting on what it means to be a “dangerous woman,” speaking out against injustice or oppression.
In her essay, Feraidon wrote about her 2015 return to Mazar-i-Sharif, where she reconnected with her mother’s family and completed an independent study. It was just the second time she had been back to Afghanistan since her family left 19 years ago, moving first to Turkmenistan and, nine years later, to the United States. She found a country living with an ever-present fear of violence.
“When I landed at the airport, I missed an explosion by only three hours,” she said. “When you are there, you are in a state of constant fear and alertness that something might happen.”
For women, Feraidon said, that fear is intensified both by worry for their children and by a lack of control.
“Being a woman under the circumstance of war is difficult, because not only are you expected to care for others around you, but you are also not given a position of leadership,” she said. “Many women there are leaders, but they are not given that title.”
While in Mazar-i-Sharif, Feraidon met female artists who worried about practicing their art publicly. One woman, a graffiti artist who hopes to use her talent to beautify torn-down walls, came up with the creative solution of transposing her planned graffiti onto digital images of walls.