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Skate Girls of Kabul exhibit tells 'story of Afghan girls helping each other'

Aga Khan exhibit captures the fascinating stories of resilient, young skaters, empowerment and 'the future' of a war-torn country.

Skate Girls of Kabul by British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson will be at Aga Khan Museum through Oct. 8

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Skate Girls of Kabul by British photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson will be at Aga Khan Museum through Oct. 8

British portrait photographer Jessica Fulford-Dobson had a hard time believing what she was reading.

It was late 2012 and she had stumbled upon a "two-inch column" in a London newspaper about a skateboarding program in Afghanistan.

"I thought: 'Did I read that right?'" said Fulford-Dobson, remembering how she couldn't associate Afghanistan, a country where it's taboo for women to ride bikes, with young women on skateboards. "Here's this conservative country where all I've heard is doom and gloom, and there was this little ray of hope for these girls.

"It was a beautiful and fascinating story."

The fascination led her to Skateistan, an international charity that uses skateboarding as a way to empower and educate young girls in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa.

Over the coming years, Fulford-Dobson travelled to Kabul multiple times to capture hundreds of portraits of girls skillfully gliding on ramps or standing triumphantly with the boards.

Skate Girls of Kabul, an exhibition featuring some of those candid images, is making its North American debut with a stop at the Aga Khan Museum in North York. Fulford-Dobson has also published a book under the same name, telling stories of a skateboarding culture for the young girls in Kabul.

Through her work, she saw firsthand the way skateboarding has helped young girls make their presence felt in a community that gives boys more room for growth in major sports like cricket and football.

"It's just this little board with wheels and it's not seen as a sport in their culture, but it helps these girls build resilience and bounce back and be tough and strong," Fulford-Dobson said.

And for a country like Afghanistan where the dominant story is about horror and war, skateboarding allows the girls to avoid being seen just as victims.

"Standing there, the joy and the thrill and the excitement in their eyes is so intoxicating," added Fulford-Dobson. "It's the story of Afghan girls helping each other. It's the future."

Skate Girls of Kabul is on through Oct. 8 at the Aga Khan. You can get more details here.

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