Afghan street artists haunt warlords with graffiti campaign
Afghan street artists haunt warlords with graffiti campaign
The short-lived image on a concrete blast wall marked the beginning of a provocative campaign by social activist group ArtLords, whose artists are calling out Afghanistan’s most powerful by depicting people killed by warlords in giant murals in public places.
They have been threatened on social media, branded infidels, and told by gunmen and mullahs to stop painting — but are unrepentant.
“This was a warning shot to everyone that we will not let you sleep at night, we will come after you, we will paint in front of your homes,” ArtLords co-founder and president Omaid Sharifi said at his studio in the Afghan capital.
Rather than seek justice for the countless victims — something that is not realistic given the huge number of them and the country’s weak judicial system — the group hopes to pressure warlords to acknowledge their past actions and apologize, Sharifi, 31, said.
Barmaki’s portrait was near the home of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the most notorious warlords in Afghanistan’s history.
His group carried out the 2011 suicide attack on a Kabul supermarket that killed Barmaki — a prominent law professor and human rights activist — as well as her husband and their four children.
Hekmatyar, whose spokesman declined to comment on the mural, is one of several infamous warlords that Kabul has sought to reintegrate into the mainstream political system in the post-Taliban era.
A two-time prime minister, he is accused of killing thousands of people during Afghanistan’s bloody 1992-1996 civil war.
Other such figures include General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful ethnic Uzbek linked to multiple human rights abuses in Afghanistan who is now the country’s first vice president, and Atta Mohammad Noor, the former governor of Balkh province who is seen as a potential presidential contender but has been accused of having links to people involved in kidnapping and other crimes.
The murals — which are typically several meters high and wide — will put faces to the victims, Sharifi says, and send a message to warlords that “we have not forgotten ... what they did in this country.”
Over the past four years ArtLords has turned Kabul’s grey maze of concrete barricades — shaped like a wide-based inverted ‘T’ to provide protection from bomb blasts — into a canvas to tackle issues such as rampant corruption and abuse of power.
With permission from local authorities, businesses and institutions, the group’s artists have painted more than 400 murals on blast walls and other prominent places in around half of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.
Sharifi said the latest campaign would also target violent extremism of the Taliban and other militant groups now terrorizing the country.
“There will be murals that say ‘you’re not going to heaven’,” Sharifi said.
It is risky work for the group’s 45 artists, who are paid for their efforts.
Sharifi said he rarely goes out and is careful to use different routes when he does.
“The threat is very real. At any moment anything can happen, a bomb can go off,” Sharifi said.
“Despite all these challenges... we have to take responsibility. Somebody has to do it.”
The mural of Barmaki has changed the “narrative of street art in Afghanistan” and people were now recognizing art as a “powerful tool” for social change, he said.
It has also galvanized other socially conscious artists around the country to use street art to send “very harsh messages to these people.”
While ArtLords receives widespread support from Afghans and the international community for its work, reaction on social media to the Barmaki mural has been mixed.
Some have applauded the group’s “courage and guts” while others have accused them of bias and exacerbating discord in the country.
“Use your art to promote unity and serve Afghanistan, do not use it to spread division,” Facebook user Yaser Baburi wrote.
Sharifi admits the new campaign will upset people “because we will remind them of all these crimes.”
“But I think this is the way to continue this discussion and force these people to come out and apologize for what they’ve done.”
With the help of the public, ArtLords is compiling a list of warlords and people allegedly killed by them, who will be the faces of the next murals.
“We will have faces of these victims in front of their (warlords’) houses or the streets they are passing by,” Sharifi said, without disclosing who will be targeted.
“There are a lot of names that come to mind.”
58 Australian fairy penguins slaughtered in suspected dog attack
- The grisly find comes just months after a dozen birds were found dead on a nearby beach, also in an alleged dog attack
SYDNEY: Wildlife officials in the southern Australia on Wednesday announced an investigation into the mass death of 58 penguins they believe were killed in a dog attack.
The carcases of the fairy penguins — the world’s smallest penguin species — were found strewn across a beach in Tasmania, a island-state off the mainland.
“We would like to remind dog owners of the need to take responsibility for their animals at all times as dogs have the capacity to do a lot of damage to penguin colonies in a short period of time,” Tasmania’s department of parks, water and environment said in a statement.
The latest grisly find comes just months after a dozen birds were found dead on a nearby beach, they too are believed to have been killed in a dog attack.
“All reports of alleged unlawful harming of wildlife are regarded extremely seriously by the department,” the government department said.
Fairy penguins — who grow to around just over a foot (30 centimeters) and can live for up to 24 years — are only found in southern Australia and New Zealand, with Tasmania supporting around half of the global population.
Fairy penguin colonies remain under threat from increasing urbanization, traffic and domestic animals.