Forced to serve in the Afghan army at 16, Afghan artist Salim Attaie from Kabul believes luck has mostly been in his favour. Having escaped bombardments by Mujahideen forces more than twice, one when his shop full of fruits was targeted, the other while eating a meal with his two friends at their furniture store — who didn’t share the same luck — it’s shocking and fascinating to see his canvases brimming with bright colours and hope. Using his fingers and a knife, the self-taught artist renders abstract visions of his city’s busy streets, serene waterfronts and rural folks walking uphill, in “Afghani Vignettes”, a group show of Afghan art at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre.
Speaking in fluent Hindi, thanks to Bollywood (Attaie claims to have watched Sholay over 50 times), much like his other Afghani brothers and sisters, he has brought to the country over 100 works painted by him and four other Afghan artists including Ghulam Nabi and Abdul Fatah Amar. “All that one reads about Afghanistan in the news is about the wars waged there. Through this exhibition I want to tell the world that bloodshed is not the only thing there. Of course that’s there and our troubles are manifold. Lekin iski khoobsurati ke bare mein, culture, art aur music ke bare mei zyada likhiye,” says Attaie, who is also the curator of the show.
Amar paints the traditional Afghani game of Buzkashi, a popular sport in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where horse-mounted, 13 players, on both sides, compete for a goat’s carcass. Among Amar’s other canvases, women in villages are seen deeply engrossed in the act of weaving carpets; there’s a barber giving finishing touches to the shaving of a boy’s head. He is seated next to his father, near the roadside. The once popular central market, the Char Chatta (four-sided) Bazaar of Kabul, appears to have been brought to life again in another frame. Originally built by Ali Mardan Khan, who governed Kabul under Shah Jahan’s reign in the 17th century, it was deliberately destroyed in 1842 by General Pollock’s army in retaliation to the British defeat in many of Afghanistan’s cities and because they were asked to vacate Kabul. Nabi, on the contrary, shows the mighty mountainous terrains of Afghanistan enveloped by its hot and humid temperatures.
A bombardment in his city two years ago that left nearly 200 of its residents dead, affected Attaie to such an extent that for the first time viewers see the strong campaigner of colours covering his entire canvas in black paint, submerging his city’s markets in gloom. Calling India as “Hindustan sar zameene hunar parvar”, (a land that nurtures talent), he feels India has given him a ray of hope (many of his paintings bear a red mark signalling their sale), unlike his country where most art enthusiasts capable of buying art are afraid to even step foot into art galleries, for the fear of being attacked.
The exhibition is on view at IHC, Lodhi Road, till May 11