Afghan activist Omaid Sharifi’s art collective spent seven years transforming stretches of Kabul’s labyrinthine concrete blast walls with colorful murals — then the Taliban marched in.
Within weeks of the group taking the capital, many of the street art pieces have been painted over, replaced by drab propaganda slogans as the Taliban reimpose their austere vision on Afghanistan.
Seeing workers rolling white paint over the art was deeply foreboding for Sharifi, whose ArtLords collective has created more than 2,200 murals across the country since 2014.
“The image that comes to my mind is [the Taliban] putting a kaffan over the city,” he said in a telephone interview from the United Arab Emirates on Monday, referring to the white shroud used to cover bodies for Islamic burials.
Yet even as the Taliban erase the work of the ArtLords, and despite being forced to flee for his safety, Sharifi said he would continue his campaign.
“We will never stay silent,” said the 34-year-old, speaking from a facility housing Afghan refugees. “We will make sure the world hears us. We will make sure that the Taliban are shamed every single day.”
Among the erased murals was one showing US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban cofounder Abdul Ghani Baradar shaking hands after signing last year’s deal to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan.
Sharifi cofounded ArtLords in 2014, using art to campaign for peace, social justice and accountability.
The prolific group often shamed the powerful in Afghanistan with street art, including warlords and allegedly corrupt officials.
Their murals honored Afghan heroes, called for dialogue instead of violence and demanded rights for women.
ArtLords members braved death threats and were branded infidels by extremists. They remained unrepentant, and kept at it until the end.
On the morning of Aug. 15, with the Taliban at the gates of Kabul, Sharifi and five of his colleagues went to work on a mural outside a government building.
Within hours, they saw panicked people rushing out of government offices and decided to return to the ArtLords gallery.
“All roads were blocked,” Sharifi said. “The army, the police were coming from all sides ... and everybody was running.”
When the group finally made it to the gallery, they learned that Kabul had fallen.
Sharifi was 10 years old in 1996 when the Taliban first came to power, and he witnessed their harsh rule until US-led forces toppled them five years later.
This time around, he said: “I expect that not a lot has changed.”
Like Sharifi, many Afghans are skeptical of Taliban claims of a softer government.
Few have forgotten the public executions, and the blanket ban on entertainment — including on TVs and video cassette players.
Sharifi said he “vividly remembers” the public punishments at a soccer stadium in Kabul, including beheadings and amputations for various crimes.
“When I was riding my bicycle to go to the central market ... [I] would see a lot of broken TVs, broken cassette recorders and all these tapes,” he said. “That is always in my mind. It never goes away.”
There was no local media to speak of during the Taliban’s first stint in power, and images of humans and animals were banned.
Tens of thousands of Afghans rushed to Kabul airport as the capital fell, fearful of life under the Taliban, among them scores of artists and activists such as Sharifi.
“It’s a very difficult choice [to leave], and I just hope nobody ever experiences what we went through,” he said. “Afghanistan is my home, it’s my identity... I cannot take out all my roots and plant myself in another part of the world.”
Sharifi’s primary concern was not violence, as he had lived with death threats for years.
“The scary part was that I will not have a voice,” he said. “What really forced me was that ... I want my freedom of expression.”
The chaotic airlift from Kabul airport ended with the last US troops leaving by Tuesday last week, and Western governments said most Afghans identified as vulnerable to Taliban reprisals were left behind.
Sharifi said he was able to help 54 artists escape with their families, but more than 100 are still in the country.
“All of them are in hiding, all of them are fearful... They’re just trying to find a way to get out of Afghanistan,” he said.
“I left [everything] behind,” Sharifi said. “The only thing that keeps me going is that I think this is not the end.”
Choosing a full-fledged confrontation with the US due to the loss of a megacontract for submarines for Australia, France is making a risky bet and other nations are not rushing to its defense. After Australia renounced its deal for conventional submarines in favor of US nuclear-powered ones, France took the extraordinary step of pulling its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra for consultations. Bertrand Badie, an international relations professor at the Sciences Po institute in Paris, said France had put itself in a position where it can only appear to be backing down or losing face once its ambassador returns to the US,
Could delivering COVID-19 immunity directly to the nose — the area of the body via which it is mostly transmitted — help conquer the pandemic? The WHO says clinical trials are under way to evaluate eight nasal spray vaccines that target COVID-19. The most advanced effort so far by China’s Xiamen University, the University of Hong Kong and Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy has completed phase 2 trials. “When the virus infects someone, it usually gets in through the nose,” said researcher Nathalie Mielcarek, who is working with the Lille Pasteur Institute to develop a nasal spray vaccine against whooping cough. “The
FREE-FOR-ALL CONTEST: Taro Kono’s popular support means that he ‘probably has the edge, but if he has a lead, it’s a very vulnerable one,’ an Asia expert said The campaign to become Japan’s next prime minister began yesterday, with four candidates vying for leadership of the ruling party in an unusually close race. In televised speeches, the candidates set out their priorities, from boosting Japan’s digital prowess to addressing the falling birthrate. Among them are two women hoping to lead a nation that has never had a female prime minister, although both are considered long shots. The race follows Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s shock announcement that he would not run for head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Whoever the party picks in a Sept. 29 vote is to contest
PLANNING TO REOPEN: Amid 1,607 new COVID-19 cases, the country is making a shift away from lockdowns, acknowledging that outbreaks will happen Australia reported 1,607 new coronavirus cases yesterday as states and territories gradually shift from trying to eliminate outbreaks to living with the virus. Victoria, home to about a quarter of Australia’s 25 million people, recorded 507 cases as Premier Daniel Andrews said a weeks-long lockdown will end once 70 percent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, whether or not there are new cases. Andrews said the state might reach that vaccination threshold around Oct. 26. About 43 percent of Victorians have been fully vaccinated, 46 percent nationwide. “We will do so cautiously, but make no mistake, we are opening this place