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Looking back at Kabul

A solo exhibition of paintings by Anita Anand gives us a glimpse of the beauty and art of Afghanistan

Anita Anand paints what she sees. Her works do not follow a particular theme, there is no set techniques or genre she follows. Displaying her paintings for the first time in an exhibition ‘Kabulana’, at India Habitat Centre, she looks back at her time spend in Kabul.
She went to Afghanistan for the first time in 2004, on a 10-day trip to evaluate a UN project. Following this, she kept visiting the country, doing assessments and evaluations of media projects, training journalists to write from a gender perspective and assisting Afghan civil society organisations till 2016. After 2004, she went back again in 2006 for a much longer period of six months. This allowed her to relax, observe and understand the people and culture of the country.
Anita recalls her first painting in Afghanistan back in 2006. There wasn’t much modern architecture because of the war and right across the guesthouse where she lived, an old building fascinated her. Talking to the guard of her building she learnt that there were plans of getting it torn down. She immediately took her diary and with a pen and some colour pencil made a painting. She also started writing a blog “Letter from Afghanistan” that year, which later on got published as a book.
More into athletics during her school days, she wasn’t much interested in painting until 2000. Quitting her full-time job as a director of Women’s Feature Service where she worked since 1975, she started exploring other options. “I was tired and wanted to relax. I started cooking, gardening and painting. The more right-brained side of me got activated,” she says.

The exhibition showcases 26 drawings which ranges from paintings of tulips to watercolours of antique ceramics. In March 2006, on Nowruz (the Persian New Year), she went to Istalif village, which is famous for its pottery. She picked out plates, cups, saucers, bowls and jugs in exquisite and distinctive turquoise and earth-colour glazes and sketched them. “I am also quite a collector,” she adds.
Not a trained artist, she explains that she is not good with drawing people and prefers sketching stationary objects more. A lot of her paintings were done later on from photographs she had taken. One of her works features a ‘pakole’, a traditional woollen hat worn by Afghanis. She took a photo of one of her drivers wearing it and sketched it afterwards.
Afghanistan holds a very special place in Anita’s heart. “Everything was being created again after the destruction of the war. It was like re-birth of a nation.” She felt her work there made a difference. Visiting the place multiple times over a period of more 14 years she witnessed the change.
“Whether I admired an old home or the tulips, it’s what Afghanistan is to me. It’s not the war,” she says. A die-hard optimist, she chose not to portray anything dark or negative. “There are multiple realities which go hand in hand in any culture.”
So, head to India Habitat Centre from June 23-25 to get a glimpse of the beauty and heritage Afghanistan has to offer.