(Amy Kazmin’s article appeared in the Financial Times, 9/9; street painting depicting Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old woman who was lynched by a mob in Kabul in March 2015 © Yaghobzadeh Alfred/ABACA/Reuters.)

The city’s domineering blast walls were a canvas for colourful murals 

They were afraid of these murals and they had a very clear plan for them,” says artist Omaid Sharifi, co-founder of the grassroots movement Artlords, which mobilised Afghans to paint more than 2,000 murals across the country. “They knew that these murals were the soul of Kabul city, and they wanted to destroy — silence — the soul of Kabul.” The first Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, was a time of extreme hardships for the country’s artists, as an extreme, dour, joyless interpretation of Islamic law was enforced. Arts and entertainment — even television and videos in private homes — were banned by fundamentalist leaders who believed photography violated the Islamic injunction against idolatry. In their zeal, the Taliban blew up two monumental 6th-century Bamiyan Buddhas — an act of cultural vandalism that provoked global outrage.

Music was prohibited, instruments smashed, with brutal punishments for anyone who broke the rules. Many Afghans hoped the Taliban — who have embraced social media with gusto — might have grown more tolerant of arts and cultural expression over the past two decades. But the destruction of Kabul’s murals, Sharifi said, has made clear that the new regime will not tolerate any voices other than their own.

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