Photographer and date unknown
When most people think of Afghanistan it conjures up images of the war that has been ongoing since 2001 or perhaps even Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation. Afghanistan is often portrayed as an impoverished and backwards nation, which it largely was under the Taliban who would severely punish those caught with Western or what they considered un-Islamic art. Despite its modern troubles, Afghanistan has a rich history of art and architecture going back centuries. Sitting along the Silk Road. Afghanistan has long been a both a strategic nation for outside powers to control as well as a cultural center . Due to the contact with numerous civilization and conquerors in ancient times Afghanistan has been influenced by everyone from the Greeks, Arab Muslims, Genghis Khan, to the western nations of today. Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of the earliest known use of oil based paints in Bamian caves used by Buddhists that predates their use in Europe by at least a century.
Photograph courtesy NRICPT-Japan: Date Unkown
Possibly my favorite example of Afghan architecture is that of the Shrine of Hazrat Ali or the Blue Mosque in Mazar-i-Sharif. The shrine was originally built during the 12th century, but was later destroyed by Ghangis Khan and later rebuilt in the 15th century. Restoration on the mosque has occurred more recently and accounts for the majority of the shrines decorations.
Unfortunately following the rise of the Taliban anything that was deemed “un-Islamic” came under attack, which sadly was the case to the Bamian Buddhist statues that the Taliban
Unknown Photographer: Photo on left taken in 1963; Photo on right taken in 2008
Despite the Taliban, art managed to survive with artists painting over their actual work with watercolors in order to hide anything the Taliban would take offense to. Artists in Afghanistan, through the help of multiple international organizations have founded the Afghan Center for Contemporary Art and the Women’s Art Center. Female artists have quit literally taken to the street in order to both get their work out and to bring attention to women’s issues in an ultra-conservative society. Though Afghans have access to internet and the ability to travel abroad in order to study art, the Afghan consumer of art prefers art with a high degree of realism as art patrons want something exactly as represented on the canvas with no room for interpretation. Even though Afghans prefer realistic art, there are artists that create works in other styles, two such artists will be discussed below.
One such street artist is Shamsia Hassani, from Kabul is considered the first female street artist in Afghanistan. Shamsia Hassani was born in Iran to Afghan parents and had wanted to study art in Iran, but was unable to as she could not due to her nationality. She picked up street art after a street artist traveled to Afghanistan and taught a workshop on the subject. Now, she works to organize similar across the country as well as attempting to change her societies views on outspoken women who refuse to keep their opinions to themselves. The following two pieces by Shamsia Hassani were chosen as I like the style in which they were done as well as the wonderful colors used in the second piece.
Shamsia Hassani, ‘Russian Cultural Centre’, Kabul, 2011. Photograph by Kabul at Work.
Shamsia Hassani, ‘Sound Central Festival’, Kabul, 2013
Malina Suliman, another female street artist splits her time between Kabul and Kandahar. Street painting can be a dangerous undertaking, but regardless of the risks she still creates art on the streets even if it’s by flashlight in the middle of the night. Though she often works in street art the below were chosen as I felt that they are good representations of her work..
The Game: Malina Suliman
Artists description of The Game: Description: The game board in this painting represents the eye holes of the Burqa. It has two chess game pieces on it, signifying a game. I feel like in Afghanistan women’s lives are made into a game, a game where men try to control them and play as they please.
Untitled: Malina Suliman
Artists description: my first graffiti piece and symbolizes that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.