Afghan Girl is a 1984 photographic portrait of Sharbat Gula (Pashto: شربت ګله) (pronounced [ˈʃaɾbat]) (born c. 1972), also known as Sharbat Bibi, taken by photojournalist Steve McCurry. It appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. The image is of an adolescent girl with green eyes in a red headscarf looking intensely at the camera. The identity of the photo's subject was not initially known, but in early 2002, she was identified as Sharbat Gula. She was a Pashtun child living in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Pakistan during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when she was photographed.
1984 photographic portrait by journalist Steve McCurry
|Medium||Kodachrome 64 color slide film, with a Nikon FM2 camera and Nikkor 105mm Ai-S F2.5 lens.|
The photo has been likened to Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Mona Lisa and been called "the First World's Third World Mona Lisa". The image became "emblematic" of "refugee girl/woman located in some distant camp" deserving of the Western viewer's compassion. It became a symbol of Afghanistan to the west.
National Geographic Edit
Sharbat Gula was one of the students in an informal school at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in 1984. Her photograph was taken by National Geographic Society photographer Steve McCurry, on Kodachrome 64 color slide film, with a Nikon FM2 camera and Nikkor 105mm Ai-S F2.5 lens. The pre-print photo retouching was done by Graphic Art Service, based in Marietta, Georgia. McCurry did not record the name of the person he had photographed.
The picture, titled Afghan Girl, appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic. The image of her face, with a red scarf draped loosely over her head and her eyes staring directly into the camera, was named "the most recognized photograph" in the magazine's history, and the cover is one of National Geographic's most famous. American Photo magazine says the image has an "unusual combination of grittiness and glamour". Sharbat Gula's green eyes have been the subject of much commentary.
McCurry made several unsuccessful attempts during the 1990s to find her. In January 2002, a National Geographic team traveled to Afghanistan to find her. Upon learning that the Nasir Bagh refugee camp was soon to close, McCurry inquired of its remaining residents, one of whom knew Sharbat Gula's brother and was able to send word to her hometown. But several women falsely identified themselves as the famous Afghan Girl. In addition, after being shown the 1984 photo, several young men erroneously identified her as their wife.
The team found Sharbat Gula, then around age 30, in a remote region of Afghanistan; she had returned to her native country from the refugee camp in 1992. Her identity was confirmed by John Daugman using iris recognition. She recalled being photographed. She had been photographed on only three occasions: in 1984 and during the search for her when a National Geographic producer took the identifying pictures that led to the reunion with McCurry. She had never seen Afghan Girl until it was shown to her in 2002.
Pashtun by ethnicity and from a rural background, Sharbat Gula's family fled their village in eastern Nangarhar during the Soviet Union's bombing of Afghanistan when she was around six years old. Along with her father, brother, and three sisters, she walked across the mountains to Pakistan to the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in 1984.
She married Rahmat Gul between the age of 13 and 16, and returned to her village in Afghanistan in 1992. She is a widow: her husband died from hepatitis C around 2012. Sharbat Gula has three daughters. A fourth died in infancy. She expressed hopes that her children will be able to get an education. A devout Muslim, Sharbat Gula normally wears a burqa and was hesitant to meet McCurry, as he was a male from outside the family. Asked if she had ever felt safe, she responded, "No. But life under the Taliban was better. At least there was peace and order." When asked how she had survived, she responded that it was "the will of God".
In 2015, Pakistani newspapers reported that the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had canceled Sharbat Gula's Computerized National Identity Card (CNIC) and those of two men listed as her sons. Reports claimed the cards had been issued illegally. A NADRA source reportedly said, "They may not be her sons but this is a common practice among Afghan refugees whereby they list names of non-relatives as their children to obtain documents." A relative said that the family lives in Pakistan, but "We travel between Pakistan and Afghanistan depending on the security situation."
On 26 October 2016, the Federal Investigation Agency arrested Sharbat Gula for living in Pakistan with forged documents. She was sentenced to fifteen days in detention and deported to Afghanistan. The decision was criticised by Amnesty International. In Kabul, Sharbat Gula and her children were welcomed by President Ashraf Ghani and former President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace. The government promised to support her financially. In December 2017, Sharbat Gula was given a 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) residence in Kabul for her and her children.
More recent pictures of Sharbat Gula were featured as part of a cover story on her life in the April 2002 issue of National Geographic and she was the subject of a television documentary, Search for the Afghan Girl, that aired in March 2002. In recognition of her, National Geographic set up the Afghan Girls Fund, a charitable organization with the goal of educating Afghan girls and young women. In 2008, the fund's scope was broadened to include boys and the name was changed to Afghan Children's Fund. After finding Sharbat Gula, National Geographic also covered the costs of medical treatment for her family and a pilgrimage to Mecca.
A 2019 article in the Indian magazine The Wire that described a 2002 interview with Sharbat Gula says that she was angered by the photograph being taken and published without her consent. The writer for The Wire suggests that this is because "it is not welcome for a girl of traditional Pashtun culture to reveal her face, share space, make eye contact and be photographed by a man who does not belong to her family."
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sharbat Gula.|
- "A Life Revealed"—National Geographic
- Search for the Afghan Girl on IMDb
- "Before and After - The Afghan Girl (1984 and 2002)"—National Geographic
- "'Afghan Girl': Taking National Geographic's Most Famous Photo", FORA.tv, The Chautauqua Institution, YouTube, July 29, 2010 (video clip).
- Hajek, Daniel (July 26, 2015). "How One Photographer Captured a Piercing Gaze That Shook the World". My Big Break (story series). All Things Considered. NPR. Retrieved July 27, 2015.