The Asia House is hosting Pakistan: Behind the Headlines, an exhibition featuring photographs of men, women and children afflicted by war and illness. Photographer Sa’adia Khan, in collaboration with Doctors Without Borders/ Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) travelled across the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in northwest Pakistan and photographed the patients in MSF hospitals, some having travelled up to 10 hours by foot to reach them.
Khan spent six days in Sadda in Kurram Ageny and Alizeh, capturing the moment of women and children visiting the hospitals. Khan said that a little girl she spotted at a hospital in Sadda struck her immensely. She had pneumonia and had come with her uncle and sister. She could not come with her mother, as the cultural code of pardah dictated that she could not leave home. “Here this girl is shivering in a flimsy chaddar, and her mother could not accompany her,” said Khan.
Khan was also touched by two girls who had come with their mother to the hospital. “They were very excited. They had a spark in their eyes from being photographed for the first time. I felt very touched by the life these women lead.”
The exhibition, featuring 33 photographs, will be on display until tomorrow (Saturday).
Shaista Aziz, communication manager for MSF and the exhibit’s curator, said that she travelled to FATA a few years ago on behalf of MSF with a colleague to interview Patients and MSF’s medical team to better understand the reality of people’s lives there. “I was struck by how many children I was meeting who were suffering and in pain from measles and fevers. I have travelled extensively across Pakistan and around the world as a journalist and communications specialist. However, in FATA, I found people to be very gentle and quiet. The men, women and children I met were not used to someone asking questions about their lives and the trauma many have suffered due to violence in the region.”
In 2015, she returned to FATA with Khan for the purpose of this project. “The response has been incredible. It’s really interesting to see how Pakistanis in Pakistan have connected with this exhibition. Many people have said they didn’t know anything about this part of Pakistan beyond the headlines of terrorism and conflict. This is why the exhibition is called Pakistan: Behind The Headlines.”
Among the visitors at the exhibition were Habiba and her seven-year-old son Aadil. “I’m British and Pakistani, I’m from London and Pindi, I’m very connected to both my countries. I wanted my son to see the exhibition because he’s been to visit family in Pakistan and I believe it’s important for him to understand what’s happening in our world….I’m looking at the photo of this little girl, Bibi Asma, look at the light on her face. Here we are on the other side of the world looking at her and she’s over there with her family and has very little. She’s five years old, the same age as one of my children. These are the things running through my mind as I’m standing here.”
Sonia, who has lived in the UK and Pakistan, said “These faces and these stories reflect the sad truth about the war that has gone on for too long. The people here need to know and see these realities for themselves.”