Female tattoo artist in Afghanistan defies convention with tattoo studio in central Kabul

Female tattoo artist in Afghanistan defies convention with tattoo studio in central Kabul
3 min read
16 December, 2019
A female tattoo artist called Soraya Shahidy fields death threats as she tattoos customers in a mobile studio.
Shahidy's tattoo parlour has no fixed address [Instagram/Ahoo_Shahidy_]
A female tattoo artist in Afghanistan is risking her life daily in order to tattoo customers in the conservative country.

Soraya Shahidy started a mobile tattoo shop in Kabul, where she has been tattooing customers for eighteen months, at great risk personal risk.

She has received death threats for her job, as permanent tattoos are prohibited in mainstream Islam, and for being a single woman working directly with men.

“I have struggled a lot, even been threatened with death,” she told AP. “People in Afghanistan think doing tattoos is haram.

“Whether my customers are men or women doesn’t matter to me. I do tattoos for both,” the 26-year-old mother said.

Despite the potential danger inherent in her job, Shaheedi said she “loves” her profession and fears that a return to Taliban rule could threaten that.

“I am happy if the Taliban return results in peace,” she began, “but if they disagree with my work and impede the freedom and progress of women, then I will be the first to stand against them.”

Instagram Post
Shahidy's mobile tattoo parlour has no fixed address out of concerns for her safety, and she uses Instagram and social media to meet customers.

Tattooing isn’t her only job, and she also does manicures and makeup, and much of her work is showcased on social media using her nom de plume “Ahoo.”

Shahidy is also studying business management at a university in the capital and said a big part of why she works is to provide for her eight-year-old son.

“Being a woman in Afghanistan requires guts,” she said. “I am proud of myself for having the guts.”

Her father and elder brother had pushed her to become a tattoo artist after she got a tattoo of an arrow piercing the image of an eye on her right hand during a visit to Turkey.

But Shahidy isn’t the only one defying social and religious convention in Afghanistan. Former army officer, Nazeer Mosawi, also inks people in the country.

The 42-year-old fought for seven years in Afghanistan’s civil war with the Islamic insurgents, and he says he is still fighting a war – against society’s conservatism.

“They even threaten to beat me, burn my shop,” he said.

“There is no alternative: I tell them, OK, I can’t flee this country because of these threats. It’s my homeland.”

Meanwhile, on the political front, reports this week suggested the Trump administration is set to announce plans to withdraw around 4,000 troops from Afghanistan.

The news comes as talks between the United States and the Taliban resumed last week, with parties seeking a path to reduce violence, and perhaps reach a ceasefire.

Washington had paused talks on Thursday after an attack by the militant group near a key US air base north of Kabul that left two civilians dead and dozens injured.

There are currently 13,000 US troops stationed in Afghanistan.

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