The tattooist who breaks taboos and challenges conservative Afghan society – Inspired Traveler

Posted in Tattoo Designs on Nov 27, 2020

Kabul, 25 Nov (EFE) .- Afghan tattoo artist Suraya Shahidi is used to receiving hundreds of petitions every time she shares her latest work on social media and, in Afghan conservative society, she also threatened by a practice that some consider taboo in Islam.

This 27-year-old is the first Afghan woman to challenge conventions and dedicate herself professionally to tattoo, which in Afghanistan remains an art restricted to a handful of people, especially young men, in big cities like Kabul.

Tattoo practice is on the rise among Afghans, especially among young people, he explains to Efe Shahidi. Many want to inscribe the initial of a loved one in their body, and there is also no shortage of those who opt for animal reasons, especially in hands and arms.

This is the Afghan youth that has grown over the past two decades, marked by the relentless conflict, but also by progress following the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.

I receive hundreds of requests every time I post one of my new designs on my Instagram account, says Shahidi, who started working as a professional tattoo artist two years ago and learned the craft in Iran and Turkey.

Tattoo salons are still limited to a few Afghan cities and still seems a strange and even prohibited practice for many, especially in rural areas, and more so in the case of women, seen as second-class citizens in conservative Afghan society.

In much of rural areas, women are not allowed to leave the home without covering themselves with a burka or full veil and, although almost 40 per cent of all students are women, their education and other freedoms are still limited.

But in a country where women are strictly prohibited from sitting near unknown men, Shahidi comfortably tattoos both males and females.


There are many conservative Afghan men who hate tattoos as much as girls and boys love them, says Shahidi, who explains that this section of the population believes they are banned by Islam. A statement that the tattoo artist hurries to deny.

You can never find a reference in Islam or Afghan culture that says tattoos are prohibited, he says.

Shahidi sees tattoos as a modern version of the khalkobi, the traditional dotted decorations that women once made on the face with plant extracts and sewing needles. Far from disappearing, brides still wear them on their wedding day and often appear in romantic poetry.

Now women use tattoos to express themselves, says Shahidi.

It may be something meaningless or strange to many, but for me a tattoo is something special. It is the symbol of my love, and I feel proud when I am with my friends, recognizes Efe Lila Ahmadi, 25, and who shows her fiancs initial on his left hand.


Shahidi has seen Afghan society, especially as far as women are concerned, break taboos over the years, from female education to the arrival of women in positions of public responsibility, in front of the 1990s under the Taliban government.

The tattoo artist feels part of that change.

Im working to change society; when I started tattooing it was something that seemed unthinkable but now, day by day, people around me have become accustomed and now it seems normal, he says.

His effort to break barriers also goes through its mode of transport, a motorcycle that drives freely through the streets of Kabul, although until now he has not yet crossed another biker.


Shahidi acknowledges that he is the subject of frequent criticism and threats on social media, although he does not attach much importance to them.

I dont care what people like or not, I just want to enjoy my life, says the tattoo artist, who is currently directing all her energies to inaugurate her new tattoo salon, located in a western neighbourhood of Kabul inhabited by the Shi Hazara minority and which has been the scene of several deadly attacks by the Islamic State in the last years.

Im not scared by security threats, this is our country and we should try to work for positive change, Shahidi concludes.

Baber Khan Sahel

(c) EFE Agency

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The tattooist who breaks taboos and challenges conservative Afghan society - Inspired Traveler

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