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Internally displaced Afghans and returning refugees work together at the site of a rudimentary brick-making factory. Kandahar

The Hazara ethnic group, inhabitants of Bamian, were targeted by the Taliban and forced into exile. Today, 60 percent of the half-million people forcibly exiled have returned. This family is part of that number. Feroz Bahar, Bamian

“All over the news I heard that we could go back to Afghanistan to rebuild the country, but now that I’m back, how can I participate in the reconstruction with an empty stomach?” Shomali Plain, Parvan

An advertisement for a weight room and gym in Kabul. Karte Seh, Kabul

The first harvest, after years of drought and war, shows promise that the country can return to peace, stability, and self-sufficiency. Aybak, Samangan
Returning families find temporary shelter in the empty caves surrounding the Bamian Buddhas. Bamian
Return, Afghanistan
Photographs by Zalmaï
March 16 - May 12, 2006

Circulated by Aperture Foundation

Opening: March 16, 2006, 6-9 pm
With traditional Afghan dance, food and music
Official Remarks by Ambassador Omar Samad, Afghanistan Ambassador to Canada at 7 pm
Rubab and tabla performance by Yasser Karimzad, James Kippen and Atiq Nikzad
Free bus departs 401 Richmond Street West at 6:30 pm and returns from UTSC at 9 pm

Contemporary Art Bus Tour: April 30, 2006
Free bus departs the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre Ave.) at 1 pm to Art Gallery of York University, Koffler Gallery and Doris McCarthy Gallery UTSC - come early and catch a tour of the TMC's exhibition Terrible Beauty at 12:15 pm. To reserve a seat, contact AGYU at 416.736.5169.

Return, Afghanistan is the result of Zalmaï’s return to his native Afghanistan under the auspices of the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees. We are presented with a body of work that is a dramatic personal account of the beginnings of reconstruction in a country still threatened by factional violence, poverty and the resurgence of the Taliban. In the accompanying text, Zalmaï writes, “I travelled all over the country, from north to south, through the center. The country was completely destroyed, and daily life had been reduced to the extreme limits of a survival level. And yet, throughout my journeys and encounters, I sensed an incredible life force that had survived despite everything – and still endured. I felt that finally, after such long time, there was hope again. I felt that the colours were returning and that they would be those of peaceful Afghanistan. And so I set out to find this hope, with—for the first time—colour film in my camera.”

For over a quarter of a century, Afghanistan has been devastated by war, drought and famine. In this powerful body of work, Zalmaï documents the relationship between the march of international politics and the daily struggles of life in Afghanistan. He captures the breathtaking landscapes of the plains and mountains, but juxtaposes such grand panoramas with scenes in markets, schools and the tents where people are caught up in the hustle and bustle of everyday living. His personal affiliation with the subject matter can be seen in the cohesive and sincere reflection portrayed by his photographs.

Return, Afghanistan is part of CONTACT 2006, the annual Toronto photography festival running May 1 - 31, 2006.


Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Zalmaï Ahad was forced into exile in 1980, at the age of 15, having to flee the Soviet invasion of his country. After crossing the Pakistani border to Peshawar he arrived in Lausanne, Switzerland, where he was recognized as a refugee.  In 1994 he became a Swiss citizen. Following his passion for photography, which he discovered very early in life, he did combined studies at both the school of photography of Lausanne and at the Professional Photography Training Center of Yverdon.  In 1989, he began to work as a freelance photographer, traveling around the world from Tibet to the Sudan, from Cuba—to cover the 40th anniversary of the Cuban revolution— to Central Africa—to cover the fate of the pygmies following extensive deforestation of their land. His work has been published in several magazines and newspapers including the New York Times Magazine, Time Magazine, Le Temps, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, La Republica, ICRC Magazine and Human Rights Watch and Refugees Magazine, a quarterly publication of UNHCR. His first photo book, Eclipse (Umbrage, 2002) deals with the theme of exile and the plight of the uprooted in different corners of the planet: Cuba, India, Mali, the Philippines, Indonesia and Egypt.  The originality and remarkable quality of Zalmaï’s work has earned him several national and international prizes including the World Press Joop Swart Master Class.

Zalmaï is a member of the Association Focale, a cooperative of photographers based in Nyon, Switzerland. At present, he lives and works between New York and Geneva.

Generously supported by MANULIFE FINANCIAL ~ Pillar Sponsor of Great Communities.