TURIN. Their murals have been erased by the Taliban. But today they live again in the gallop of the former Artillery of Turin where Paratissima is set up, the contemporary art fair directed by Olga Gambari who strongly wanted the Afghan street artists of the ArtLords collective in Turin, namely Lima Ahmad, Omaid Sharifi and Kabir Mokamel, who since 2014 they have painted more than 2,000 murals in 19 of Afghanistan’s 24 provinces. At the end of August they had to flee their land and the Taliban censored all their works with white paint. Paratissima reproduced them in their original format and the authors arrived in the city to confront the public and paint two great works: one in Paratissima, the other in a former paper mill on the outskirts of Turin.
Omaid Sharifi, on the morning of August 15, at the news of the entry of the Taliban in Kabul was working on the walls of a government building. What did it feel?
“We were 5 artists from the ArtLords collective and we were painting a mural on the walls of the Kabul governor’s office. News of the entry of the Taliban leaked around noon and we saw many panicked people rushing to their homes. We immediately left the building and ran to the ArtLords gallery. We made sure all of our staff were safe. So we understood that there were no alternatives: to survive we had to leave the country ».
How did you manage to escape and where did you go?
“We managed to catch one of the last flights, it was the end of August. Kabir Mokamel and I asked for asylum in Washington, Lima Ahmad fled to Europe, to Frankfurt. We had death in our hearts. We observed Kabul from above, our country, and it was as if we had been torn from a son ».
Why did the Taliban rage with particular violence against the murals immediately after the Doha treaty?
“Because the new government, armed with huge buckets of white paint, has put in place a strategy to completely remove art from every aspect of life in Afghanistan with the aim of adhering to a more Islamic model of society. So along with the murals it erased 20 years of Afghanistan’s history. They have eliminated the signs of time that had flourished after the collapse of the first government in 2001. An infinite time of social history told through the works of art that are the first symbol of the vitality of a country. And now the future of art in Afghanistan looks bleak because the Taliban don’t want to live with it, they don’t admit it. They have canceled all forms of contemporary art tout court, let alone when art was a vehicle of humanitarian and democratic messages ».
You painted your murals on the “Balst Walls”, the dividing walls between war zones, border and resistance lines made up of gray bomb-proof concrete blocks that you dressed in life …
“The Blast walls were our walls of choice, our palettes: born as a sign of oppression and anguish for citizens, we had transformed them into a place of confrontation, a message of positivity in favor of human rights, gender equality and of peace”.
One of her tweets on September 3 went around the world: next to the image of one of your murals censored with a cast of white paint and “signed” with propaganda phrases about the new regime, she wrote “They started: the Taliban started to paint on our murals starting from the historical one that marked the signature of #DohaDeal ».
«I remember well, that day was the beginning of our saddest and darkest period: losing a mural for us was as if we were amputating an arm. We have put all of ourselves into those works. We painted in the scorching sun and in the cold of winter that saw hands. And they with a coat of white paint have erased art, humanity, politics in one gesture ».
A mural in the center of the capital was dedicated to a Japanese doctor and humanitarian worker killed in 2019. Is it true that his portrait was replaced by a poster congratulating the nation on the victory of the Taliban?
“Yes, it’s true. There are the Taliban painted on the portrait of Tetsu Nakamura, also known as Kaka Murad, was a Japanese doctor and an honorary Afghan citizen in charge of Peace Japan’s medical services.
What did these interventions in public space mean for you?
“It meant providing a space for reflection, giving the citizen a momentary break from the constant worry of war, involving people in a visual dialogue, giving a voice to the voiceless. Furthermore, we have always wanted to paint something beautiful that could encourage citizens to hope in themselves, in their country and in the future of their children ».
Did he have time to see the writings of power censorship obscure his murals or did he have to flee first?
“Some of the murals were erased while we were still in Kabul and others after we left. It is important to remember that before the Taliban had a chance to introduce their interim government, they had already covered up some of our jobs that they found offensive. Our escape from Kabul is a story of suffering, bewilderment, courage and resilience. We are working on how to collect the stories of the people we know and present them in art form. Only art can photograph this moment ».
How do you see the future of your country today?
“The new conquerors of Kabul understand only their version of Islam and Shariah. They don’t believe in diversity, tolerance and respect for other ethnicities and cultures. If this situation continues, there will be millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands will die of starvation and a full-scale armed insurrection will begin across Afghanistan.
What is your wish?
“To breathe. To have a simple and normal life for us and all Afghans: express our opinions, paint, simply live ». –