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Afghan aesthetics

In a country constantly at war, this exhibition of 40 paintings by a group of five Afghan painters portrays life in that country in all its raw beauty

War. That’s the first word that comes to mind when we talk about Afghanistan. It has been almost two decades now since the NATO allies tried to liberate the country from the Taliban. Several people fled, fearing for their lives.

Yet life goes on. Men and women continue with their daily work, children head to school and the sunsets remain as beautiful as ever.
Making an effort to highlight aspects of Afghanistan beyond the war, India International Centre is hosting a painting exhibition by a group of five Afghan artists, led by Mohammad Salim Attaie. Titled ‘Afghan Art: A Land in Conflict and Hope’, it showcases a collection of paintings which brings out the ‘Never say die’ spirit of Afghans.

All forms of creativity were banned by the Taliban during their regime during 1996-2001. Almost 80 per cent of artefacts and film reels were destroyed, forcing the artists to hide ‘un-Islamic’ paintings. However, since the fall of the Taliban, the art scene in the country has seen a revival. Afghan painters started exhibiting their oil and water colour paintings reflecting on past conflicts and the current situation in the country.

Salim, like most other artists, does not have any formal training in art. He was forced to enroll in the army at the age of 16. After four years, he left the army and started doing odd jobs to earn a living. “From selling tea to working in construction sites, I sometimes can’t recall the things I have done,” he says. He started collecting paintings abandoned or sold by families who were fleeing.

COLOURFUL CANVAS: The paintings portray daily lives of Afghans along with the beautiful landscape of the country

Following this, he began painting and founded a gallery called ‘Gallery Nootaq’. Faculty from the art school visited his gallery and encouraged him to mentor students. He started an art school with only three students, which has now grown to almost 40.

The exhibition aims to bring about a change in the way the world views Afghanisthan. Promoting the rich cultural heritage of the country, the paintings have vivid strokes of bright colours. It portrays scenes from their regular lives like the traditional mud houses in the backdrop of mountains and clear blue sky, busy city life featuring shops and crowds of people, the Kabul river flowing through the city with markets on both sides and several others. “Contemporary art also reflects on the destruction and devastation of the aftermath of war but the main emphasis is to highlight daily life,” Salim explains.

Yet there are few takers for art in the country and public exhibitions of artwork are scarce owing to the rising violence. Salim dreams of having a gallery in India so that he can showcase and sell his work along with the paintings of other Afghans.

So, head to the exhibition from May 23-29 (11 am – 7pm), to know more about the beauty, art and heritage of Afganisthan.