We cannot be erased

Photos of paintings by Shamsia Hassani

We Planted the seeds  :  Female graffiti artists of Afghanistan

I was drawn to a profoudly moving article, in this week’s Observer newspaper, by Ruchi Kamar, an Indian journalist reporting from Kabul.
On Twitter she has reported,  “Last week I was a journalist. Today I can’t write under my own name. My whole life has been obliterated in days. I’m not safe because I’m a 22-year-old woman. and because I’m a journalist”

Ruchi is one of a group of women in Afghanistan who have challenged inequality, violence and the progress of women in an hitherto male dominated society. They have spoken through the medium of art, particularly graffiti art, using the buildings of their cities as their canvas. Art was the seed of change they planted in the fabric and the hearts of progressive Afghanstan. It was never plain sailing but since the takeover by the Taliban it has become, for the time being, almost an impossible dream.

Most of the women artists have fled from Afghanistan but even where the Taliban has whitewashed their art, the power of their story lives on. Most are continuing to paint and offer cartoons which challenge us all in the global struggle to foster inclusivity, peace, justice and freedom for all.

One of the leaders of the Art movement is Shamsia Hassani  (born 1988). She is a graffiti artist, was until the Taliban arrived a fine arts lecturer and was associate professor of Drawing and Anatomy Drawing at Kabul University. She has popularized street art in Kabul and exhibited in a number of countries round the world. Excluded currently from Afghanistan, their voice lives on in their drawings.

After reading Ruchi Kumar’s article, I was moved to write this poem:

We cannot be erased

Men in black came.
Shrouded in rags of darkness,
they carried pots and crumpled brushes,
grubby paint under their dirt-ridden fingernails.

But we eluded them.
They did not capture our spirit, or even our fears
and we slipped behind our art.

They found our murals –
not hidden, but filling the streets.
Statements of freedom, love and hope
on walls and doorways, houses, alleyways and souks.
Art in the public domain:
picture-words addressed to those
who would be changed by them,
engaged through them.
Hope, constantly embraced.

Dangerous words for those who want control,
power and demonic servitude.
So they came with their little pots to erase them –
to erase us!
Frantically obliterating all we stood for.

But by then we had gone,
slipping beyond the darkness out of reach.
We cannot be silenced – not even in Kabul.
Our identity, our message, our struggle, our hopes
are all there in the soil of our country,
planted deep, but growing up through the darkness
watered by tears shed abroad,
until, one day…

Our hearts hurt yet also yearn.
Sad now, but with joyful expectations
and the determination to open our hearts one day
to a new dawning…

We cannot be erased.

© Mr.G Oct 2021

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