Hidden Art Rediscovered

Artists who risked their lives under Taleban rule are now having their work celebrated in a Kabul exhibition.

Hidden Art Rediscovered

Artists who risked their lives under Taleban rule are now having their work celebrated in a Kabul exhibition.

Thursday, 3 March, 2005

Sculptor Abdul Hai Frahmand risked being executed when he practiced his craft under the oppressive Taleban. Yet he continued to make his finely honed wooden works of art in secret, and concealed them among the firewood in his basement.


Today, the university lecturer’s pieces are on display in an exhibition in central Kabul, entitled Hidden Arts of the Taleban Regime, alongside others by artists who, like him, were determined to prevent the student militia destroying Afghanistan’s culture and heritage.


The student militia was opposed music and any form of art that depicted human or animal forms.


“When the Taleban came, they did not let people carve statues, telling us it was forbidden by Islam. The sculpture department in Kabul University completely collapsed, but I did not lose my inspiration and effort,” he told IWPR.


“I began making sculptures in secret, and sometimes taught my trusted students in my house. After making the sculptures, I hid them under firewood because if the student militia had caught me, they would have hanged me as an infidel.”


Even before the rise of the Taleban, Farahmand had suffered for his art when the mujahedin came to Kabul in 1992. Like the student militia, the Islamic warlords were hostile towards art – and those who defied them risked severe punishment. “At that time we were so afraid that we destroyed more than 50 works with our own hands,” said Farahmand.


However, a number of pieces survived those dark years. A total of 24 plaster or wood sculptures, 45 paintings and 14 miniatures are on show at the exhibition, which has been organised by the Cultural Union of Kabul University.


Its director Mohammad Azeem Aminzada said, “Our first aim is to show the people of the world that Afghans did not lose interest in the arts even in difficult times. Secondly we want to bring the teachers and students of the arts faculty into contact with artists outside the university.”


Many of the paintings are by Mohammed Ashraf Anzorgar, whose work provides a dramatic record of the country’s last two war-torn decades. His canvases highlight poverty, the effects of war, life in remote areas and the pain of refugees.


The exhibition’s largest painting - nearly two metres tall - depicts the destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas, the aftermath of the September 11 attacks on America, and US planes bombing fleeing Taleban fighters.


This exhibition was opened by higher education minister Mohammad Shareef Fayez, who said, “I am very proud of the artists of our country who did not lose their interest in art during the very difficult times of the Taleban.”


The opening ceremony on Sunday, September 15, was attended by a large number of Kabul University teachers, art enthusiasts and exhibited artists.


This event at the Afghan Media and Cultural Centre runs for a fortnight, and all the pieces can be bought for between 200 and 3,000 US dollars. The money will go to the artists to encourage them to continue their work.


Rahimullah Samander is an IWPR reporter based in Kabul.


Support our journalists