Beautiful Beast project connects Christchurch and Kabul

Beautiful Beast project connects Christchurch and Kabul

Christchurch musician and CPIT Music Arts student Kerry Coulshed has collaborated with a leading female Afghani filmmaker to create a music video that calls for rights for women in the beleaguered, war torn country.

The Beautiful Beast Project music video was recently launched in Christchurch and is planned to be launched in Afghanistan next Monday 14 September, where its political message about equality may get quite a different reception. 

The project is the story of brave women from different cultures, the power of music and filmmaking, and a book - The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.

When Coulshed read The Dressmaker of Khair Khana two years and a half ago her life took an unexpected turn. The book, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, described the true story of Afghani woman Kamila Sidiqi, who under the restrictive Taliban regime ran a dressmaking business that employed over 100 women. 

 Janelle Palmer and (right) Kerry Coulshed from Taipei Teahouse.  

Coulshed is one half of the indie-tronica duo Taipei Teahouse. She'd been writing a song about life after the Christchurch earthquakes and was struck by a common theme – that despite the very different contexts of post-earthquake Christchurch and Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, out of the most challenging circumstances amazing things can happen. And Coulshed noticed powerful women making those things happen. She sent her song to Kamila.

"She responded straight away, emailed back, she loved the song, she thanked me for the song. She said the lyrics were powerful and had touched her. And so from then we started to communicate. We skyped and talked more about what we could do around these themes and that's where we came up with the idea of making a music video for the song," Coulshed said.

Kamila then sent the song to Roya Sadat, Afghanistan's foremost female filmmaker, who also loved the song.

"So we started to communicate and some interesting things happened then. I mean I'm skyping these women in Afghanistan and we're trying to communicate on this creative level as well as… who we are. We had so much in common – more than we thought – we were passionate about what we were doing, we believed in the themes around this really strongly and how important it was to do a project like this, we were all mums, we are all juggling the things we love, our jobs, our passions, our children and all the responsibilities that come with that."

Through these conversations, the music video project took shape. Coulshed took on fundraising and handed creative control to Roya and her team. The results were powerful.

"The music video itself, we've seen the final cut; really powerful images. The purpose of it is looking at the oppression of women and women rights, but it also has symbols of hope. The main character goes from entrapment to hope, a hopeful situation.

"Roya hasn't used stereotypical Taliban images, instead she has used symbols of the obstacles that get in the way of women achieving like men. When Roya got involved the project became bigger than the song, it became political and it became bigger than just what's going on in Afghanistan. This was about the obstacles that can get in the way of any women in the world achieving like men do and that can be challenging even in New Zealand to say some of these things, so I think it is very challenging to be doing this in Afghanistan, but necessary."

Through her involvement with the project Coulshed learned a great deal about Afghanistan and about how media portrayal can shape our perception of other a countries. 

"When I thought about Afghanistan before this project I thought of deserts, women in burkas and the Taliban. And then over the last couple of years, the images of Afghanistan, it's a beautiful country. The women I have met are beautiful and strong and inspirational. It reminds me that every society has depth to it and the one or two images we might see about a society or a community are just images that scratch the surface of one aspect."

Coulshed said CPIT Music Arts was "an amazing place to be" and she appreciated the flexibility to study part time and also put her music studies at CPIT on hold while making The Beautiful Beast music video.