Last Saturday night in Baghdad, there was a different kind of drama happening in one of the troubled city’s luxury hotels. It was the kind of drama that revolves around frocks, high heels and young women worrying about whether their shades of lipstick and nail polish work together.
Yes, it was a fashion show. However in Baghdad, where car bombs are a regular occurrence, and fear of the extremist group known as the Islamic State is pervasive, a fashion show is more than just an outing to see some nice dresses. It is something of a gesture of protest, a sign that life goes on and that Iraqis in the capital city enjoy their culture as much as they ever did.
For the models who took to the runway, it was about even more than this. Getting on stage, let alone getting onstage dressed in what would be construed as immodest clothing in some conservative circles, is dangerous in Iraq. Young women who wish to do this could end up insulted, threatened and intimidated. So walking the runway in Baghdad also takes guts on the part of the models.
The models that photographer Hawre Khalid spoke with backstage all recognised the risk they were taking but said they wanted to do it anyway, because, more than your average aspiring beauty queen wishing for world peace, they believed they were setting a good example for Iraqi women and girls everywhere.
“I don’t actually want to be a model,” one of the girls, Mariana Ata, told NIQASH. “But I want to be at this show to support all Iraqi women and to show them they can do whatever they want to do, just like me.”
Ata is of Kurdish ethnicity but originally from Iran. She left that country two years ago and moved to Sulaymaniyah in Iraqi Kurdistan so that she could pursue her dream of becoming a singer, something she was forbidden to doing more conservative Iran. “It is difficult,” she admitted. “But my family supports me and they told me from the start: go and do what you want, it’s your dream.”