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Art under threat - Afghanistan

Updated: Mar 24, 2022

Will the new Taliban regime indulge creative spirit?

This is a painting by Shamsia Hassani, the first female graffiti artist from Afghanistan.

Imagine the challenge! Being a woman, she paints the city of Kabul with her fiercely independent expressions! And now, Taliban walks in with their guns and swords! This is one of her paintings posted on Instagram.

The heart of the girl in the image is behind bars yet the soul is trying to take flight. Not like a bird but like a kite. A kite is always tied to the ground and finally bites the dust after a short spell of freedom in the sky.

There is a widespread fear among artists that the Taliban would crush the very spirit of creativity soon. The question is, why? What is wrong with artists? How does a piece of art come in conflict with the principles or motives of the Taliban?

Is it the Islamic doctrine that stands on the way?

I am sure, it is not so. Had it been, there would not be so many legendary Islamic artists across the globe. In India itself there are as many Islamic artists as artists of other religion. Are all of them heretics? Come on! No way.

After all, in the kingdom of one supreme almighty (monotheism) every subject is equal. Hence, every subject is free to live life as per the wishes of the supreme. One subject can not rule the other. It is a flat organizational structure. Of course, the forbidden act is to build up a realistic model of some human or object that may end up being worshipped eventually and pose a treat to the existing almighty. Such action has the potential to destabilize the very fundamentals of monotheistic framework that there is one God!

This is the reason, early Christianity and Islam forbade realistic painting or sculpting of people and things. This resulted in a sudden halt in the progress of Western art during the advent of Christianity. We can not find much of Greek sculptures but encounter only reproduced versions made later. Most of it was destroyed due to the crime of likeness. But this did not mean, art was banished. It was the likeness that was prohibited. This, in fact, resulted in a beautiful genre of Islamic art with calligraphy and geometric shapes.

But in this case, art as a whole is being questioned. Why?

Let us look for similar attitude in other chapters of history.

For instance, consider Stalin’s regime in Russia. Stalin made the idea of art loud and clear through the guidelines he issued –

"Art belongs to the people. It must leave its deepest roots in the very thick of the working masses. It should be understood by those masses and loved by them. It must unite the feelings, thoughts and the will of the masses and raise them. It should awaken in them artists and develop them."

It was a verbiage coated with nice words containing the clear message that art was to be used as tool for propaganda. Stalin wanted art to serve a functional purpose like the plough or the gun.

So, art during that time was always focused at the classical type of realism trying to hold up the spirit of the party. Also, art was often used to polish the image of the boss, Joseph Stalin.

The radical and subversive Avant Garde spirit of art was thrown out of the window. Impressionist and post-impressionist paintings were rolled up and sent to Siberia like convicted criminals.

Just like Russia, in China too, Mao Zedong imposed socialist realism as the acceptable art-form during his regime. Apart from this kind of extreme examples, we can find many other milder instances when artists and intellectuals had been under constant attack by the authorities of various regimes.

It goes without saying that Stalin's rival, Adolf Hitler persecuted every damned intellectual in the country despite being a failed artist himself at an early age.

In India of recent days with high degree of religious and ritualistic sensitivity, one political leader of minor significance advised the intellectuals to carry on their singing and dancing but not break their heads on politics or social affairs. If they did, he would grind them hard. Thankfully, his party lost the election in the state and the thinking brains of the state could save themselves from being ground to little particles of dust. Only commonality among the regimes is the factor of fear. Such governments or organizations use fear as the most important tool to keep control over people. They set up a thick rulebook of ‘don’ts’. Denial is the central weapon to restrict the society from straying into territories of dissent. It is this vey weapon of control that fails before an artist, a poet, or an author. Because the very spirit behind creativity is a desperate longing for freedom. The freedom to walk the uncharted vista beyond the known and already explored. Rules do not exist in such domains. Hence, the free souls navigate such forest of possibility without any protocol or convention shackling their feet. Hence, independence is a compulsive trait among such intellectuals. They can not be blind followers. They leave footsteps for others to follow. Naturally, the regimes which are flagbearers of fear, can not govern over such free souls. This is the reason they try to uproot any possibility of art or other intellectual affairs to thrive in their land.

But then, one curious question is the effectiveness of such terror technic. It is not rare in history that amazing pieces of artworks were created under such oppression. For example, the photograph, through the eyes of the others, by Hungarian photographer Károly Kismányoky in socialist Hungary speaks volume! The regime blind folded its citizens and offered its vison to look around so that everyone saw what the regime wanted them to see.

Examples are plenty. Who knows? Perhaps Taliban regime will not be the enemy of art, or art will survive the grind. After all, art is always the last one standing in the warzone of life and death.

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