Dr. Avnish Jolly, Chnadigarh:The pakul is a soft, round-topped men’s hat, typically of wool and found in a variety of earthy colors: brown, beige, russet, gray, or ivory. It Afghanistan the pakul is particularly popular in the mountainous area’s of Badakshan, Nuristan, Panjsher and Konar. Chittral, Gilgit and Hunza are the areas in Northern Pakistan were the people traditionally wear this hat. Before it is fitted, it resembles a bag with a round, flat bottom. The wearer rolls up the sides nearly to the top, forming a thick band, which then rests on the head like a beret or cap. When a Sunni Muslim man prays man prays, his forehead must touch the ground. The round part of the pakul provides a soft cushion.
The 25 photographs in this exhibition are all of men from Northern Afghanistan. The obvious common feature of the portraits is that all the men are wearing the pakul, the soft woolen hat.
In recent years photographs of men wearing pakuls became identified with the war of resistance against the Soviet Union, most famously by the well known leader of the mudjahideen Ahmed Shah Masood. Masood was assassinated two days before 9/11, the attack on the twin towers that led to the eventual removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. The hat however has acquired a wider symbolism and is identified with the fighting and fighters in Afghanistan.
In the exhibition Afghan Pakul, the photographer, Anne Feenstra has attempted to capture this overlooked aspect of Afghanistan. These portraits are of a father worrying about his sick daughter, the concentration of a craftsman who repairs shoes and of a shepherd who just returned (after 5 months) from the Pamir mountains. They are of a police man, a school headmaster, a shopkeeper, a boy that rides his donkey for fun and an afghan man that could be the twin brother of Bratt Pitt. None of them are fighters, only ordinary Afghans living and surviving from day to day, like in other parts of the world.
The photographs are from Northern Afghanistan, the province of Badakshan which comprises the Wakhan corridor, where Feenstra, an architect, designed and built the visitor’s centre for the Pamir National Park, one of the most astoundingly beautiful and unspoilt high altitude wildernesses in Asia.
Feenstra, who has been living and working in Afghanistan for three years as an architect and teaching pro bono in the Kabul University speaks enough Dari to talk to all the Afghan men portrayed here thus gathering basic information, like their profession or what they were up to at the moment of the dialogue.