Tajikistan art class a home away from home for Afghan exiles

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Painters from the organization ArtLords painting a mural on a concrete blast wall in front of an Afghan National Police post in Kabul, Afghanistan, March 13, 2016. Afghan refugees are finding refuge in an art space in neighboring Tajikistan. (Photo: NYTimes)
VAHDAT, Tajikistan  — When Omar Khamosh, a street artist who fled Afghanistan earlier this year, opened art space in neighboring Tajikistan, it quickly became a place of refuge for other Afghans missing home.اضافة اعلان

On a recent visit to his studio outside the capital of the poor and mountainous Central Asian country, a dozen young Afghans were huddled around sketches in a room filled with images of their home country.

One painting on the wall showed Afghanistan’s national flag — which the new Taliban government is expected to discard soon — in the form of a human eye, a tear forming on its lower lid.

“My friends and everyone who was drawing or doing art, they’re not working anymore; they’re hiding at home,” Khamosh said of peers back in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

“The borders are closed. They can’t leave. They sit at home without work and hide, fearing for their lives.”

Some of the exiled Afghans in Khamosh’s class arrived in Tajikistan in the weeks and months before the Taliban seized power in August. Others arrived earlier, some anticipating hardline group’s takeover.

More than half in the class were young women, who said that the Taliban’s early moves — including closing schools and workplaces for many women and girls — left them in no doubt that they had no reason to return.

One of them, Sapan Nazari, was working on a sketch inspired by couplets about betrayal penned by a 13th century Persian poet Saadi Shirazi.

“No one wants to leave their home behind. But we’re here now,” said Nazari, 19, who arrived in Tajikistan with her parents over a year ago.

“Of the future — what is there to say? I want to learn how to draw well. That’s all for now.”

Their adopted home country, Tajikistan is one of three former Soviet countries bordering Afghanistan and is the only one to have shun direct contacts with the Taliban.

‘Nowhere else to go’ 

Tajikistan has positioned itself as a supporter of Afghanistan’s large ethnic Tajik population, but has also been reluctant to take in large numbers of refugees. 

Before he fled to the ex-Soviet country, Khamosh was part of a booming street art scene in the Afghan capital Kabul.  

It was because of this, he believes, that his family was targeted and his father murdered.

Khamosh told AFP he fled in January after religious conservatives stole into his family home in Kabul and killed his father as punishment for Khamosh’s street art and sculptures.

He recounted going into hiding after his father’s killing, fearing further retribution from the Taliban, before ultimately leaving the country.
“I went to Tajikistan because there was nowhere else to go,” he said.

The conservative group has since erased many Kabul street murals painted by local groups, while music schools shuttered overnight as the Taliban took power.

As his artistic legacy at home is wiped clear, Khamosh hopes to soon hold an Afghan-themed exhibition at his three-month old art space in Vahdat outside the capital Dushanbe.

But aside from difficulties that come with having to leave home, there are practical problems to overcome too.

The cost of acrylic paints and other materials — both for Khamosh and his students — is a problem for an operation he hopes to expand to include 16 different art forms.

The exiles are nonetheless determined to carry on.

Oranos Nodiri, 24, who came to Tajikistan with her husband and two children two years ago, believes that the Taliban’s bid to silence the arts is doomed to failure.

“The Taliban are hurrying towards violence, because the people of today are not the same as twenty years ago. They don’t want to go back to that life,” Nodiri said. 

For a third student, Marwo Asadi, the art classes are more than just a hobby.
“I want to get a collection together and display it in another country, to show paintings of Afghanistan,” Asadi said.

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