A woman in Afghanistan did a performance art thing about street sexual assault, and she got such a generous reception that she’s gone into hiding.
Kubra Khademi had hired a local blacksmith to forge a suit of armor with accentuated breasts and buttocks. She planned to wear it publicly to protest the way that women’s bodies are lecherously groped and abused in public spaces — something that first happened to her when she was only four years old.
“Somebody touched me and then he just walked away. I was just a female for him. He didn’t care how old I was,” the 25-year-old artist shared in an interview. “I was feeling guilty. Why did it happen to me? It was my fault. And I said: ‘I wish my underwear were made of iron.’”
She told the AP that she was publicly sexually assaulted several times after that, most recently in 2008, just before she took her entrance exams to study art at Kabul University. That time, she screamed. “All the people stared at me and even started yelling at me: ‘You whore! How dare you scream! Did you enjoy it?’” she remembered.
She’s a whore for objecting to sexual assault. What? Is it whorish of her to think her body belongs to her and not to the general public?
Khademi’s activism culminated on the afternoon of February 26, when she emerged from her home wearing the metal suit, concealed by a coat. She removed the covering at the base of the Kata stone bridge and began to walk. Bystander Mina Rezaei described the eight-minute performance and the angry reactions it quickly provoked on her Facebook:
Crowds were wide-eyed and everyone was running to see the armored woman. Some complained about her clothes, some misused the situation and started touching girls’ bodies in the crowd, some people stoned her, some abused. It was so unbearable and scary. People were following both herself and her entourages while stoning all of them. During those eight minutes, the armored woman was scared and walked so fast. At the end she sat in a car, but people still stoned and kicked the car as a sign of goodbye to her.
Stoning. Well, that’s forthright, at least.
Some people even accused Khademi of being an American spy. She has since received so many angry emails and death threats that she’s purportedly left her home. According to her Facebook, she currently resides in Seoul, South Korea, though it’s unclear if that’s where she’s currently located.
Khademi’s brave performance follows that of many other artists — from Pussy Riot to Tania Bruguera — who have forsaken the safe haven of the gallery to take their social activism into the streets, where it is most trenchant.
And then are made to pay for it.