Afghan artist in hiding after 'iron underwear' stunt

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Media captionKubra Khademi wore the costume to highlight harassment faced by women, as David Loyn reports

An Afghan artist has been forced into hiding after receiving death threats for dressing in a metal suit featuring exaggerated breasts and buttocks.

Kubra Khademi wore the unusual armour in a performance on the streets of Kabul to highlight the problems of sexual harassment faced by women.

She had hoped to make a walk lasting for 10 minutes but in the event was forced back into her car by an angry mob of men after only eight minutes. The men threw things and even children were shouting at her.

She said the men were yelling: "That whore. What is she doing? Is she a foreigner? Who the hell is she?"

Image caption The artist says the performance was inspired by her own experience of abuse as a child
Image caption She was forced off the streets after just eight minutes

Khademi carried out the performance because, she said, Afghan women suffered in silence. And even wearing a burka is no protection. She said those wearing the all-covering blue nylon garment faced harassment too.

However, she is now facing daily threats by phone and email from Islamic fundamentalists who have threatened to kill her.

'Killing a butterfly'

Speaking to the BBC in a secret hiding place, she said it had taken her several weeks to make the armour. The blacksmith she used was surprised when she first came in but she marked out the breasts and bottom and they beat the metal into shape.

She said she had designed it because "this is all that men see of women".

Image caption She had the bodysuit custom-made by a local blacksmith
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Despite the trouble with fundamentalists, she says she has no regrets

The idea of the armour was inspired by her own experiences of sexual harassment when she was only five years old. She was very upset by the encounter which she likened to killing a butterfly.

"First of all I questioned my identity and sexuality and everything I was feeling," she said.

"It was like something was dead. What I remember of that day is only one sentence I said at that moment: 'I wish my underwear was made of iron.'"

'Heat is increasing'

For the performance, she walked on the crowded streets of Kabul's western district of Kote Sangi, where she had faced taunts and harassment as a student in 2008.

'When it happened to me then, I screamed and screamed, and all the people started looking at me and yelling at me and saying 'how dare you scream, you whore'," she says.

"Nobody was defending me, they were blaming me."

She says she had expected some hostility for the performance in Kote Sangi last week but she thought it would die down.

Instead, she says, "the heat is increasing every day".

She is now receiving constant death threats by email and phone and her life has been turned upside down but she has no regrets.

"What I am facing now is the reality of my society," she said. "I can't change it immediately. OK, you are angry, but this is how I work, and I am not going to stop it."

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