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Hanifa Alizada (photo courtesy the artist, via Facebook)

The Canadian government has denied the Afghan artist Hanifa Alizada a visa to travel to the country, where she was due to speak and show her work at “The Shrinking World of Photography” symposium next month. According to the Ottawa Citizen, Alizada, a photographer and instructor in the fine arts department at Kabul University, and Gholam Reza Sepehri, her fiancé and frequent artistic collaborator, had their visa applications turned down by the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad, Pakistan. (The Canadian embassy in Kabul does not grant visas, so all Afghan applicants are directed to apply through Islamabad.)

“I did travel to USA, Europe, and south Asian countries,” Alizada told the Citizen. “I never overstayed and never got refused by any embassy. What can be the problem with my travel history?” Early next year she is scheduled to travel to Denmark and India.

Alizada was due to give a speech on the conditions for women living in Afghanistan at the January 22–25 symposium. Her photographs, which often make literal the persecution women face there by showing close-ups of their bodies crisscrossed by ropes and strings pulled tight, were slated to be shown concurrently at the School of the Photographic Arts: Ottawa (SPOA) and the SAW Gallery.

“My reaction is surprise and extreme disappointment because Hanifa had travelled relatively freely in the past and participated in international exhibitions,” Tony Martins, SPAO’s director of development, told the Citizen. “Hanifa’s desire to come to Canada to exhibit her work was a key factor in the development of the entire symposium.” The event is being co-organized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative and MATCH International Women’s Fund.

A form letter sent to Alizada and Sepheri by the High Commission gave the following explanation for the visa denial:

In reaching a decision, an officer considers several factors; these may include the applicant’s travel and identity documents, reasons for travel to Canada, contacts in Canada, financial means for the trip, ties to country of residence (including immigration status, employment and family ties) and whether the applicant would be likely to leave Canada at the end of his/her authorized stay.

According to the Citizen, the Department of Citizenship and Immigration Canada in Ottawa could not discuss the particulars of Alizada and Sepehri’s visa applications due to privacy laws.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

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