Afghan artists watch and worry as Taliban promises framework anchored in Islamic law to assess cultural production

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Twenty years ago, the Taliban destroyed two 6th-century statues – the historic Bamiyan Buddhas – in a systematic effort to rid Afghanistan of any vestige of non-Islamic cultural heritage. Now, as the militant group regains control of the country, artists and cultural leaders fear their work will be threatened again.

Reports from local and international news outlets indicate that Afghan artists hide their own creations – or, in extreme cases, even destroy them – lest they be attacked by Taliban law enforcement. Others, meanwhile, fled the country or went into hiding.

A prominent artist told the Washington post that he buried 15 of his paintings – all of them depicting women in a modernist style – days after the group took control of Kabul and fled with dozens of other works of art to the House of ‘a relative, where he is locked up in secrecy.

“When we paint a human being or an animal, the Taliban say we give life and spirit to a piece of paper,” said the artist, who requested anonymity. “Saving my own art is like saving my own life. “

Contemporary Afghan artist, activist and curator Mina told a story similar to The arts journal. Fearing a door-to-door search for activists, she hid all of her artwork, ripped pages from books and deleted her social media accounts.

“Every day I get messages from other artists asking, ‘What should we do? What advice do you have? We are in danger, ”said the artist. “I have no answers for them and it is extremely painful for me.”

“Who thinks of art now? Mina asked. “Nobody. Everyone thinks only of finding ways to save their life.

The main entrance to the National Museum of Afghanistan closed in Kabul on September 8, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi / AFP via Getty Images.

Since the Taliban’s return to power last month, the mullahs have yet to issue any formal statement on the rules regarding the art. The group’s deputy spokesperson Bilal Karimi told the To post that the interim government is in the process of establishing a “framework”, but explained that whether a given work of art is “permitted or prohibited” will be determined by Islamic law.

“Knowledgeable people will formulate the rules, taking into account religious, national and historical traditions of art and cultural heritage, and whether these matters are in accordance with or against Islamic laws,” Karimi told the newspaper.

So far, few artists have reported direct interference from members of the Taliban, and the country’s main institutions, such as the National Museum of Afghanistan, were not searched. But many, especially those who lived through the band’s reign between 1996 and 2001, remain suspicious.

Activist Omaid Sharifi and the collective he founded in 2014, ArtLords, have spent years decorating Kabul’s otherwise oppressive concrete blast walls with colorful murals. But a few weeks after the capture of the capital by the Islamists, many creations of the collective were repainted and replaced by Taliban propaganda.

Sharifi invoked a burial shroud: “The image that comes to mind is [the Taliban] put one kaffan over the city, ”he told the AFP this month.

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