WASHINGTON (June 7, 2004)—”Return, Afghanistan: Photographs by Zalmaï,” an exhibition of photographs by photographer and Afghan refugee Zalmaï Ahad, opens June 16 at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall as part of this year’s World Refugee Day celebrations. “Return, Afghanistan: Photographs by Zalmaï” will be on display at National Geographic through July 4, 2004. World Refugee Day, June 20, was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 to recognize the contribution of refugees around the world.
The exhibit is based on a new book of photographs by Zalmaï of the same title published by the Aperture Foundation (June 2004). The images chronicle a dramatic and personal account of one refugee’s return to his country at the beginning of reconstruction. The photos capture a land still threatened by factional violence, poverty and the resurgence of the Taliban. Despite the precarious situation, the images portray hope and optimism.
Born in Kabul in 1964, Zalmaï was forced into exile in 1980 at the age of 15 — after the Soviet invasion of his country. He traveled to Switzerland, where he was recognized as a refugee. He pursued a career in photography, attending the School of Creative Photography in Lausanne and the Center for Professional Education in Photography, Yverdon. Today, Zalmaï is a Swiss citizen.
In 1996 Zalmaï returned to war-torn Afghanistan as a photographer under the auspices of a Swiss newspaper. He went back a second time a few years later to document the refugee camps. In 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, Zalmaï returned once again to Afghanistan with the help of United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) — 22 years after his exile. The photographs on display are a product of this last journey.
“My project tries to capture the determination and the courage of a people that has rarely known peace, their optimism against all odds and their worry that Afghanistan could still return to the nightmarish condition it is trying to escape,” said Zalmaï.
A traditional black-and-white photographer, Zalmaï chose color for the first time to capture his homeland. “I felt that now, after such a long time, there was hope again for Afghanistan,” he said. “It seemed to me that colors were returning and that they would be those of a peaceful country. And so I set out to find this hope, with — for the first time — color film in my camera.”
The world premiere of the exhibit, co-sponsored by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland and UNHCR, took place May 10 through May 23, 2004, in Geneva, Switzerland. After its U.S. debut at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C., the exhibit, presented by the Aperture Foundation with the support of UNHCR, will tour cities in the United States, Europe and Asia.
A freelance photographer, Zalmai’s work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times Magazine, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, La Repubblica and Human Rights Watch and Refugees Magazine.
The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed December 25. Admission is free. For information on the exhibit, the public should call (202) 857-7588 or visit nationalgeographic.com/explorer.
A full schedule of World Refugee Day events is available at: www.unrefugees.org.
Founded in 1888, the National Geographic Society is one of the largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations in the world. It reaches more than 250 million people worldwide each month through its five magazines, the National Geographic Channel, television documentaries, films, books, videos and DVDs, maps and interactive media. National Geographic has funded more than 7,500 scientific research projects and supports an education program combating geographic illiteracy. For more information, log on to nationalgeographic.com, AOL Keyword: NatGeo.
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950, by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. In more than five decades, the agency has helped an estimated 50 million people restart their lives. Today, a staff of around 5,000 people in more than 120 countries continues to help some 20 million persons.
Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation dedicated to advancing fine photography, was founded in 1952 by six gifted individuals: photographers Ansel Adams, Dorothea Lange, Barbara Morgan, and Minor White; historian Beaumont Newhall; and writer/curator Nancy Newhall. With scant resources, these visionary artists created a new periodical, Aperture magazine, to serve photographers and photography enthusiasts worldwide. As the medium flourished, so too did the Aperture Foundation, expanding to include the subsequent publication of books (over four hundred to date); limited edition prints and portfolios; artist lectures and symposia; and a traveling exhibitions program that, since its inception, has presented over 100 exhibitions at major museums and cultural institutions throughout the United States and abroad.