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The Icon of a political nightmare

By Nicole Chaput

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My friends and I got together for lunch the other day and one of them urged for us to go see the Steve McCurry exhibit. Someone asked who he was. “You all know that photo of the Afghan girl with green eyes that appeared in the cover of Nat Geo?” Well, who doesn’t…

When we arrived to the gallery we saw her. A million pages can be dedicated to Steve McCurry’s technical aptitude, the vividness of his colors and the intimacy he creates with the subject. But Afghan Girl articulates with a single gaze.

What I find the most captivating about this photograph is the coexisting dialogue of allure and misery. Her eyes shine with the exclusivity of all the diamond rings but everything else in the photograph suggests otherwise.

The photograph is read with a lot of tension because despite its chaotic contextual framework of war, death and oppression, it is exquisite aesthetically speaking. The girl in the picture bleeds adversity and yet the photograph is remarkably beautiful; there lies its tragedy.

When shot, Afghan Girl was a refugee in Pakistan at the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The photograph was taken at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in 1984 and then appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. It was meant to illustrate the 1980’s Afghan conflict and the blue refugee issue occurring worldwide. The war lasted 23 years, 1.5 million people were killed and there were 3.5 million refugees. Afghan Girl has earned the name of “The First World’s Third World Mona Lisa” and is repeatedly compared to the iconic Da Vinci painting.

The subject in the photograph remained unknown for 18 years. She existed only as a mysterious girl who conquered the world with a piercing glance. But in 2002, a National Geographic team hunted her down. The refugee camp was closing soon and upon a series of inquiries the girl’s brother unveiled her whereabouts. Although McCurry recognized her as soon as he saw her eyes, John Daugman with the use of iris recognition later confirmed her identity. She was formally identified as Sharbat Gula. Gula is now approximately 29 years old and spends her time cleaning, cooking and doing laundry for her three daughters. Sharbat Gula can write her name but cannot read. She says there is no hope for her education, but wishes her kids to have the opportunity.

McCurry shot the most expressive testimony of a victim, but Gula personifies the personal nightmare occurring in the twilight of wartime.

I am sure most are familiar with this portrait, but seeing the piece full sized in a dialogue with a clever selection of McCurry’s works is a different visual experience that saturates any viewer with awe.

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Galería Patricia Conde

Lafontaine 73, Polanco

Mexico City, Mexico

Ends: September 4