Gendered coal struggles at the margins
Men, women and children miners in Tajikistan
Gendered coal struggles presents art work based on the feminist geographer Negar Elodie Behzadi’s ethnographic research in the village of Kante in Tajikistan (2014-5). In this village perched at 2000 m of altitude in the Fann Mountains in Tajikistan, armies of villagers plunge everyday in the underground mining galleries to extract the black gold of the country: ‘komor’ (Coal). Since the fall of the Soviet Union, men, women and children from the age of 5 started digging in the red and black rocks – first to extract coal for subsistence, and later to sell the mineral on a growing informal market. Men left the village to migrate seasonally to Russia, mountaineers became fishermen in Kamtchatka or construction workers in Moscow, Irkustsk and other Russian cities, leaving women and children back in the village. Since 2012, a Sino-Tajik industrial mine set up in the village, encroaching on the villagers’ only resource and alternative to migration: coal.
Gendered coal struggles makes visible men, women and children’s lived, embodied and gendered experience of work, resource struggles, exclusion and stigmatization in this emerging extractive landscape. Through a series of photographs on the experiences of shame (Sharm), an ethnographic film on exclusion in the extractive landscape of Kante (Komor), and an animated ethnographic portrait on the story of one stigmatised female informal miner (Nadirah), the work invites viewers to engage with the intimate encounters between the ethnographer, the research participants, and the field. By doing so, Gendered coal struggles participates in the broader project of building a feminist political ecology of resource struggles beyond the text attentive to the affective political spaces opened by art-based work. Together, the photographs and films invite consideration of the ambivalent meaning of the margins, highlighting the connection between this a priori remote village and the broader (trans)national and global politico-ecological changes. They also participate in a broader anti-mining and environmental justice political project and stimulate anethics of care by inviting participants to personally experience affective and embodied landscapes of exclusion and violence shaped by extractivism.
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Photos by Negar Elodie Behzadi
Series of four photographs
Kante, Tajikistan. 2015.
In Kante, villagers consider the work of female miners as shameful. In this village, norms of honour and shame (namus / ayb and/or sharm) regulate women’s everyday lives and their gendered roles and obligations, constraining their socio-spatial mobility and tying them to the home. This series of portraits hints at the (inter)generational and gendered experience but also performance of shame, ultimately highlighting the ambivalence of shame as a marginalizing emotion. These photos, taken in the intimacy of women’s home or in the intimate space created between the ethnographer and the researched, show the way shame can act as a way to hide pleasure – pleasure of being irreverent by telling me to go to the bazaar and ‘grab a man’ if I wanted to get married one day (Bibi Djan, upper left, in her patio), pleasure to be photographed and to capture my attention (Mehrnigor, lower right, coming back from the coal mines).
Komor: Journeys through the Tajik underground
Directors: Negar Elodie Behzadi and Hattie Brooks Ward
Kante, Tajikistan (2014-15). Produced in London, 2018-9 (12 min).
This ethnographic documentary delves into the everyday, embodied, emotional, intergenerational and gendered struggles that have emerged with the transformation of the Tajik extractive landscape of Kante, at the margins of the post-Soviet space.
Drawing on 8 months of ethnographic research by the geographer Negar Elodie Behzadi carried out in 2014-15, this film first makes visible men, women and children miners’ stories of extractive violence in a context of economic desolation and politico-ecological transformation. It also highlights the role and place of the ethnographer in this process, making explicit how ethnographic knowledge is produced through a personal, emotional, and corporeal encounter.
Nadirah, coal woman
Written by Dr Negar Elodie Behzadi
Animation Design: Kate Jessop
Sound: Nicholas O’Brien, Upcycled Sounds
Nadirah is an animated ethnographic portrait of one stigmatised woman coal miner, in the village of Kante, in Tajikistan.