As looking at the photograph of Arberto Hugo Rojas, it reveals in front of us an image of young Kurdish fighter, wearing a camouflage gear and holding a rifle. Next to her the figure of a male fighter facing off the camera’s gaze can be noticed. The picture probably captures a scene of the preparation before a combat against Daesh. The warm tones of the image highlight the desolate area where the two photographic subjects are positioned. If one observes this image more closely, one can feel at unease, something is going wrong if a woman is taking up arms.
How can we read this image? How can we understand our uneasiness? How
can we understand the context of the social surroundings and political aspects
in the photo?
First and foremost, so as to answer these questions one needs to accentuate the image’s functions in relations to producing a system of knowledge rather than the intentions of the photographer shooting it. The modern individual is trapped in an era where we get informed through article news, web pages and social media. Our gaze is subject to being institutionalized. Since images are mostly edited and surrounded with text, it is vital to observe how these systems of governing the gaze are used to imply preconceived interpretation. Our first encounter with this photograph was probably through a newspaper or an online article. Our first sight of this photograph is not even its full, uncropped one. The magazine gaze has overtaken the gaze of the spectator(Lutz et all, 2003). What we see is a different image, resized in order to emphasize on the female fighter, to take our attention to her features, facial expressions and “glamorous look”. The title of the article about her death where the female fighter is described as the “Kurdish Angelina Jolie” has a huge impact on the spectator. Our initial reading of this photo is influenced by how it was presented to us. In order to fully grasp the image, to deterritorialize the sovereign, to take part in reading this photograph based on an ethical duty as Ariella Azoulay puts it, the spectator needs to understand its own responsibility of what is visible, to abandon their passive attitude toward the image and look deeper into their own ethics of seeing (2008; 130).
This is not the first instance when Western media showed fascination for the YPJ soldiers. For instance, Kurdish female fighter called “Rehana” gained a lot of attention after being murdered. As Dilar Dirik comments: “Reporters often pick the most “attractive” fighters for interviews and exoticise them as “badass” Amazons.”(2014). However, what we can learn from this ongoing obsession about the female freedom fighters is not much about them as it is for the values and stereotypes Western media wants to reassure about the Eastern women. What is evident from the way in which Eastern women are given the platform to raise their voices is that only the ones that are beautiful enough are important to be heard of. This raises question of what notions of beauty the Western media is reinforcing and whether it has been trapped in the ways which the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy operates (hooks,2000). In both cases the representation of the killed Kurdish women was made in a specific way underlining not their political agenda, but their appearance, body and gender. The overabundance of media attention they receive on the basis of her look devalue the struggle of Kurdish independence and fight against Daesh.
This images were picked up by western feminists as an example of way of rebellion against the patriarchal eastern society where women are more subordinated than in Europe and USA. However, this way of interpreting the images is decontextualizing the complex message of the images and setting an orientalist way of seeing. As bell hooks states, the fight to end sexist oppression is universal and the beginning of the fight against male domination was not started by white Western women. She argues that the “sexist practices in relation to women’s bodies globally are linked”(2000;46). Moreover, Kurdish women were part of the struggle for independence for many years before the first western woman was allowed to join the military. Which leads us to the important questions which this image raises – Whether eastern women are sorely fighting against patriarchy or their fight can be intersecting between class, gender and nationality? Can Eastern women be acknowledged for their gender-egalitarian governance demand and do we care about the core of their political struggle?
The trends of interpretation this image has created over time have had the similar one-sided approach at looking at this image. The unease we feel at or first encounter is not merely due to the sexist oppression in the Middle East nor the death of a beautiful looking young girl. It may include these conceptions, however, if we look carefully, the forgotten scenes of horror of a whole nation trying to maintain their lives as they fled place by place will unveil. It will evoke our disgust for ourselves as we realize that these women are fighting for their freedom, struggling against displacement, mass murder and systematic assimilation across four different countries. We will see an ongoing resistance against terrorism, settle colonialism, patriarchy and fascism. We will not see actress Angelina Jolie, the Hollywood millionerd, but Asia Ramazan Antar, a Kurdish YPJ female fighter fighting her own fight for democracy. According to Ariealla Azoulay, photography’s critics emphasize on the fact that photography has the ability to be perceived falsely forgetting that it can also allude us to the truth (2008;). To decolonize the media’s myopia, one need to attempt destroying what was oversimplicity written and interrogate distortions of people’s life experiences. Even if we have the postcolonial emancipatory image in front of us, it is the spectator duty to look critically, overturn the attempt of media to simplify the intersectional identity of the subject of photography. If we look at Asia Ramazan Antar not just as a beautiful female fighting against rigid sexist roles but as individual with personal engagement to the world, we will equip ourselves with a photography as a tool of decolonization of our minds, photography as a radical way of seeing.
Notwithstanding the above one question remains: Are we ready to decolonize ourselves?