“A friend tells me he burns his paintings”: Afghan artists in Australia talk about 20 years of war | Culture

A collaborative project between Australian and Afghan artists and journalists will examine the legacy of 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan through a series of art exhibitions and multidisciplinary events over the next 12 months.

The Twenty Years Project kicks off Thursday, with a two-night public forum featuring Afghan musicians, poets, journalists and activists in Australia and around the world.

The forum, which is supported by advocacy and research organization Diversity Arts Australia, will examine the role of Afghans in the diaspora and the future of culture and media in Afghanistan under the Taliban.

Project co-founder, freelance journalist Antony Loewenstein, said Twenty Years would dissect the role played by Western powers, including Australia, in the occupation of Afghanistan, media coverage and the rise of Islamophobia after September 11 through video, photography, text. , public events and art exhibitions.

“The real unvarnished story of the post-9/11 war, now that the Taliban is in control of the country again, is a grim parade of West-backed war crimes, mistakes, ignorance, racism and silence, ”he declared.

“Pro-war pundits, enthusiastic journalists and belligerent politicians are given far too much airtime to pontificate on a war they have helped start and fuel for two decades.

“We want to offer a different perspective, more reflective and critical. “

Australian writer Antony Loewenstein is the co-founder of the Twenty Years Project. Photograph: Supplied

Afghan photojournalist Najiba Noori will attend this week’s Australian forum from her new home port in Paris.

She told Guardian Australia that there was no future for her work in her home country.

“I follow social networks. Kabul University has a new director appointed by the Taliban who has called for the death of all journalists. The Faculty of Fine Arts was closed. The music school where my brother studied guitar too.

Afghan-born visual artist and poet Elyas Alavi, who was granted asylum in Australia as a Hazara refugee in 2007, held an exhibition of his work in Kabul in 2014 and returned to his home country in 2016.

Afghan poet and visual artist Elyas Alavi now lives in Adelaide
Afghan poet and visual artist Elyas Alavi now lives in Adelaide. Photography: Saïd Goli

He said he now feared he would never be able to return to Afghanistan.

“A friend told me he burns his paintings … and I’ve heard of people burning their books on philosophy and art,” he said.

“Now he and some of his family, most of them are going underground because they just don’t know what’s going to happen. The Taliban are checking people’s cellphones … for [content] it is against Sharia law, and they are [targeting] writers, artists, the LGBTQI community.

Alavi said the Afghan-Australian community felt betrayed by the Australian government.

“Prime Minister says Afghanistan is a tragic country with a tragic history and Australia cannot do anything, it is the fate of these people and it will always be a tragedy,” said the now based artist. in Adelaide.

“But the government can get more people at risk out, more than the 3,000 additional visas it has announced … and there is no permanent visa for those who are already here.”

An oil on canvas by Elyas Alavi from his Halal 2021 series
An oil on canvas by Elyas Alavi from his Halal 2021 series. Photography: Grant Hancock

Melbourne-based Loewenstein, who traveled to Afghanistan in 2012 and 2015 for book and film research, said the Twenty Years Project gave him a unique opportunity to work with Afghan artists to create something lasting that would challenge the media stereotypes of Afghanistan.

“I vividly remember reporting from insurgent territory of the country and seeing and hearing Afghans caught in the middle of a senseless war,” he said. “Afghan art is a way to resist this futility and build something beautiful and provocative.”

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