‘We planted a seed’: the Afghan artists who painted for freedom | Human rights

Negina Azimi felt shock and concern like by no means earlier than when she heard that Taliban fighters had entered Kabul on 15 August. As an outspoken feminine artist in Afghanistan, she knew they might come for her.

“We heard stories that the Taliban may raid homes. I used to be scared as a result of I reside in a really central neighbourhood and each room in my home is adorned with the sort of artwork the Taliban gained’t approve of,” she says, referring to work that function messages about girls’s empowerment and are important of the Taliban’s atrocities.

Azimi rushed house from the studio the place she labored, ArtLords, and took down all her work, fastidiously stashing the work away in locations the place she hoped they might not be discovered. “However a lot of our work is outdoors on the partitions of town, and everybody is aware of us,” she says, referring to the ArtLords’ initiative of portray murals on the thick concrete anti-blast partitions that cowl many of the war-ravaged capital. “We heard that the Taliban enquired about us to the shopkeepers and requested for our addresses. They wished to punish us.”

Azimi was one among quite a lot of artists who made it on to an evacuation flight within the days that adopted, abandoning years of arduous work and efforts to revive the Afghan artwork scene. From exile in refugee camps in Europe, they’ve watched on-line because the Taliban erased their murals, one after one other. The hardliners had painted over many ArtLords photos and changed them with the phrases, Ham Watan Azadet Mubarak – a message congratulating the residents on their “freedom”.

“I can’t categorical how damage I felt once I noticed on social media that the Taliban had whitewashed the mural of the Afghan girls’s orchestra; it was my first piece with ArtLords,” she says.

An ArtLords painting.
An ArtLords work.
Fatima Wojohat, 18
The ArtLords gallery in Kabul, Afghanistan.

  • High row, works by ArtLords. Above left, Fatima Wojohat, 18, who joined ArtLords 4 months in the past. Above proper, The ArtLords gallery in Kabul

“A lot of our artwork was in regards to the 20 years of battle for Afghan girls, about justice and freedom of speech. We had chosen to painting Afghan heroes to encourage the subsequent era, which the Taliban erased,” says one other Afghan artist in exile, who needs to be recognized solely as Muhajir (which suggests refugee in Dari).

“I used to be pressured to go away all the pieces I constructed and created behind. Wherever I am going now, this may all the time be my id: I’ll all the time be a muhajir,” he says.

Afghan artists paint a mural on a wall

Shamsia Hassani is an Afghan graffiti artist and artwork professor at Kabul College, who additionally managed to flee the Taliban. She says: “My nation and my artwork gave me an id. The day Kabul fell, I couldn’t imagine it; my coronary heart was on fireplace.”

Hassani, like many Afghans of her era, grew up as a refugee in Iran due to many years of warfare, and had returned to Kabul after the autumn of the Taliban in 2001. “Artwork was evolving there. The variety of artists and artwork lovers was step by step rising. In fact, there have been nonetheless many who opposed artwork, but it surely was accessible for everybody and we had the liberty to be an artist,” she says. “We had planted a seed and have been watching it develop.”

The first image Shamsia Hassani painted after the fall of Kabul.
Work by Shamsia Hassani.

Hassani’s distinctive type of graffiti – that includes a younger girl with closed eyes – appeared on many partitions within the Afghan capital, an emblem of social change, empowerment and peace. A lot of her work has additionally been erased.

“The vegetation I nurtured with years of effort and hopes have been all destroyed,” she says.

“I used to imagine that artwork is stronger than warfare, however now I realise that warfare is stronger, and all the pieces we constructed over 20 years might be destroyed inside minutes by its darkness,” she says. “The explanation I’m nonetheless portray right here is to assist myself keep afloat and never sink on this darkness.”

Graffiti artist Shamsia Hassani

Lida Afghan is an Afghan-Dutch artist who has labored extensively in Afghanistan however is now unable to return. “After I consider Afghanistan I get very overwhelmed, and these days I discover myself crying lots. The one consolation I get is thru portray, which can be my approach of speaking to the ladies within the nation that you’re not alone,” she says.

Afghan woman, by Dutch-Afghan artist Lida Afghan

Afghan’s latest items, which depict girls’s insurrection in her former house, usually went viral on social media. “After I draw girls, I attempt to present how highly effective they’re, as a result of usually Afghan girls are seen as victims and weak. I’ve seen girls, from all components of Afghanistan, and they’re continually preventing in opposition to the patriarchy,” she says.

“Artwork is a motion – it’s such a common language that may converse to the folks’s souls. And with it, I attempt to say to Afghan girls to not hand over. My hope is that after they see a bit like that they really feel empowered,” she says.

The artists who’ve fled Afghanistan stay undeterred and have been creating new work, even within the refugee camps. The ArtLords collective continues to create new items in exile and hopes quickly to placed on an exhibition of works by displaced artists.

“The Taliban can whitewash all our work in Kabul, however we’ll all the time have our paint and our brush. We are going to combat again with that,” says Muhajir.

Shamsia Hassani from Dreaming Graffiti series

  • Shamsia Hassani’s imaginary graffito on the cliffs of Bamiyan, the place the Taliban destroyed big Buddhist statues from the fifth century in 2001. The image is a part of her Dreaming Graffiti sequence, through which she enlarges pictures of locations she want to put graffiti, then paints a mural on footage of places she will be able to solely dream of

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