upper waypoint

Artists In and Outside of Afghanistan Depict the Agony of the Taliban Takeover

Save ArticleSave Article
Failed to save article

Please try again

Some Afghan artists are continuing to express themselves online, despite the threat of the Taliban. (Instagram/Shamsia Hassani)

Over the weekend, scenes of chaos unfolded in Kabul as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen made assurances to the BBC on Sunday, that “there will be no revenge on anyone,” and that women would still be permitted to attend school and work. But harrowing stories emerging on the ground in Afghanistan suggest otherwise. Many fear for the freedoms of art and culture.

One 24-year-old woman in Kabul wrote in The Guardian:

I can no longer laugh out loud, I can no longer listen to my favorite songs, I can no longer meet my friends in our favorite cafe, I can no longer wear my favorite yellow dress or pink lipstick. And I can no longer go to my job or finish the university degree that I worked for years to achieve.

While several prominent Afghan artists quickly took down their social media accounts, a handful have continued to express themselves in the face of a military organization that has previously banned—and destroyed—art in the country.

Omaid H. Sharifi, president of nonprofit ArtLords, continued to work on a mural in Kabul on Saturday. Sharifi told NPR, “I’m not sure I may be able to paint again or not. I’m not sure my organization will be there. I’m not sure if my paintings will be there tomorrow … But still, in this day, a couple of hours ago, I was painting in a street of Kabul. And I hope I will be able to do it again.”


Also persisting is Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female graffiti artist. She has continued to post her heartrending work as the crisis unfolds. Over the weekend, she posted this:

By Tuesday, the determination expressed in that initial image had transformed into a devastating expression of defeat:

Hassani’s art was picked up and shared by A Mighty Girl on Facebook, as a means to encourage people to donate to organizations—including Women for Afghan Women—that are helping Afghans on the ground.

Much of the Afghanistan-related art being shared on social media currently, however, is several years old.

The three-year-old image below, by artist Minna Mamik Momand, has been re-circulating on Instagram, after someone added the date of the Taliban takeover to it.

This haunting image by Afghan street artist Malina Suliman, which was created at least six years ago, has also been shared widely as part of online protests about the reality now facing Afghan women in their homeland.

And this painting by Lida Afghan, originally created for International Women’s Day in March, also began circulating on social media over the weekend.

Lida, an Afghan artist now based in Denmark, posted a message of defiance on Tuesday.

Another Afghan ex-pat, Zayn Sadatt, currently based in Seattle, used his Instagram platform to cry out for international assistance.

The majority of artworks protesting the Taliban’s takeover are coming from outside of Afghanistan, as artists from around the world express concern and sadness from afar. Many include the symbol of the blue burqa—the garment Afghan women were forced to wear under the Taliban rule of the 1990s.

In France:




The line, "Now I have to burn everything I have achieved," came from a 'Guardian' article written by an anonymous young woman in Kabul.
The line, “Now I have to burn everything I have achieved,” came from a ‘Guardian’ article written by an anonymous young woman in Kabul. (Instagram/ @honey_does_melanin_art)

And, in particular, Iran:

Iranian journalist and cartoonist Hadi Heidari posted this image with a message of solidarity for Afghan citizens.

Iranian artist Amin Baghestani posted an image of flowers emerging from the interior of a burqa. It was accompanied by the words to “Morq-e sahar”—a poem by Mohammad-Taqi Bahar that is an anthem of freedom in Iran.

As Afghan artists face an uncertain future, the Afghan American Artists and Writers Association (AAAWA) has urged the U.S. to broaden the eligibility for artist visas. It has asked that especially vulnerable groups in Afghanistan—including women, LGBTQ+ people and religious minorities—be given special consideration.

“There’s a closing window of opportunity for these vulnerable groups and the U.S. must facilitate their safety,” the group wrote on its website. “After pursuing 20 years of failed policies that have harmed Afghans, the very least the United States can do is provide refuge for those seeking it as the Taliban aims to take the country by force.”

lower waypoint
next waypoint