Skate Girls of Kabul

Skate Girls of Kabul inspire skateboarding in Toronto

Aga Khan Museum features award-winning images by British photographer Fulford-Dobson

Female empowerment comes in many forms, even in little girls decorating their hijabs with helmets and riding skateboards down the streets of Kabul.

Their pictures are on display in Toronto at Aga Khan Park until Oct. 8.

They are a result of a trip British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson took to Afghanistan in 2013. The last thing she expected to see was happiness in what was supposedly one of the most dangerous cities on earth, she said.

“There was so much joy, so much colour, so much laughter and it was just so intoxicating. The first thought I had was ‘How on earth am I going to capture this?’” Fulford-Dobson said.

Fulford-Dobson has collected all the images of the girls in a book called Skate Girls of Kabul. She wanted to take this to a bigger audience in different parts of the world. The Skate Girls exhibit has visited Britain and Qatar, and has now made its way to North America for the first time.

“Initially it was just to bring back something that could make us all feel a little bit happy and to show that, through all the horrors, there has been change and it mustn’t stop,” Fulford-Dobson said.

The Skate Girls of Kabul are part of Skateistan, a program in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa that empowers youth through skateboarding. Skateistan educates these kids, aiming to give them the chance to grow into leaders within their society.

Although the program incorporates all genders, Fulford-Dobson said, “I always knew it was the girls’ stories I wanted to capture. I felt strongly that they deserve to be seen and deserve to have a voice on a world stage.” And so she decided to place her focus on the girls in the bright-coloured dresses.

“I loved that they brought their own style to a sport that is normally just caps on the backs of heads,” Fulford-Dobson said. “They show you can do it in whatever you want — headscarf, dress, flower-power, and just general girl-power! It was wonderful,” 

Alongside the exhibit, the Chill Foundation held a pop-up skate park on Sept. 16 at the Aga Khan Park where over 40 kids learned to skateboard for free.

Chill Foundation representative Bree Oda, 29, was impressed to see so many kids come out to learn how to skateboard.

“It’s really nice to see girls skateboarding,” Oda said. “It used to be dominated by boys but we’re coming out in bigger numbers and we’re showing them we can do it as well—even in war-torn countries.”

Beside Oda, the kids were beginning to put down their skate gear, and return their skateboards.

Hadley Carpenter, 42, was helping his 6-year-old girl, Maybelle, unbuckle her helmet after a long day of mastering a new skill.

“It seemed like the perfect opportunity for these guys to learn about what the skate girls are doing and get a chance to skateboard themselves,” Carpenter said.

Maybelle enjoyed skateboarding so much that she looked up at her dad eagerly asking him to build her a ramp at home.

“Here we are now, with the Skate Girls of Kabul inspiring the skate girls of Toronto,” said Fulford-Dobson. “And isn’t that a great story?”