Questioning the Absence of Women from Public Spaces in Northern Pakistan using Mixed Reality and Transmedial Story Telling

Kanzul Fatima Arif

Hochschule Darmstadt


M.A.: Expanded Media, Immersive Installation

In 2007 the Taliban insurgency took place in Swat, Pakistan, and Swat as we knew it had forever changed. The war officially ended in 2009, however, area-specific outbreaks continued resulting in the shooting of Malala Yousufzai in 2012. Even though the Taliban were declared officially defeated in Swat two years later and the 1.6 million Internally Displaced People (IDPs) were able to return home, women continue to have little access to public spaces and education to date. Objective The project aims to virtually relive a memory in which women roamed freely in Mingora Bazaar, and their haunting absence was not yet pronounced. Using mixed reality, I want to bring back the women to Mingora Bazaar. A key focus of this thesis is to demonstrate the absence of Pakistani women in public spaces in Northern Pakistan. It explores the categorical change in the visual image of a bazaar in Mingora Swat where women have been removed from public spaces in the aftermath of the Taliban Insurgency. Research includes analysing artistic works in Film, Photography, Media Art Installations, and Immersive Journalism, particularly in the context of oppressive regimes in the modern Islamic World and its impact on women. Where are the women? This thesis takes on an intimate introspection to the situation in Swat, Pakistan from the perspective of the artist. In a practical realization of this, a Virtual Reality Prototype has been produced of an installation that uses interviews, video footage, and interactive virtual space to create an immersive experience for audiences to be able to visualise the absence of women in the Mingora bazaar. Women reappear in a spatial limbo that exists at the cusp of the past and the present in Swat. Elements of nostalgia and sounds of a distant past populate this virtual space and bring back the essence of femininity that is missing in the Mingora of today. Through this project, I want to start a conversation about the absence of women in the public space in the northern areas of Pakistan. While doing so I also want to relive a time in Swat where women could freely be part of the public space.