• Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Afghanistan: Street art and the political

Despite the war and turmoil in Afghanistan many young Afghans feel like their home is there and they will never belong anywhere else. They strive to create a sense of normalcy and try to overcome fear by dreaming of a better future for themselves and for the country. They speak up about the suffering of the Afghan society and express desire for change. They do it through art.


For artists in Afghanistan art is not abstract. It conveys a political message, tells a story about pain and loss, provides representation for those who are marginalized, and gives people hope and strength. Since over 63% of Afghans are under 25 years old, many aspiring artists engage in alternative forms of art popular amongst the youth, particularly through street art. ‘Art is stronger than war’ - said Shamsia Hassani, the first female street artist in Kabul. Her and other young artists use murals to bring people of Afghanistan together.

Generation of artistic activists


The Afghanistan art scene has been growing since the fall of the Taliban and has seen a rise in projects connecting artists, art lovers, and organizations supporting them. ArtLords is a movement of artists and volunteers seeking to initiate a change in the society of Afghanistan through non-violent means, that is art and culture. By referring to important societal issues like vaccinations or human rights, ArtLods create a visual representation of people’s desire for peace and progress.

Their campaigns empower people to speak up about their experiences and ideas for development. Anti-corruption, women’s empowerment, anti-terrorism are some of the themes depicted in the murals painted by the group. The movement shows people that the future is in their hands. Even though there are certain things they can not control, changing societal behaviour and eliminating cases of for example harassment of women or fraud is the first step towards creating an equal, modern society.

First and only female graffiti artist in Kabul


Shamsia Hassani is a woman who achieved worldwide recognition thanks to graffiti she paints in the streets of Kabul. The usual subject of her work is the position of women in the society of Afghanistan, widely dominated by men. Women she depicts wear burqas because for Hassani the act of taking the burqa off does not signify freedom. Even if women in Afghanistan did not have to cover their bodies, they still would not have many fundamental rights.

She challenges Western societies’ perception of hijabs as a limitation to women’s freedom by showing that other factors limit their liberty to a much greater extent. The subjects of her work have their eyes closed not to see the dreadful images of war around them. What is more, such creation signifies that women in Afghanistan often do not see prospects for happiness and a peaceful future. The women she paints have no mouth, which represents the fact that women in Afghanistan do not have a say in important matters, and their freedom of speech is limited.

Often the characters she depicts play musical instruments. Music, as she indicates, is an alternative way for women to speak up about the difficulties they face in the country. Her works serve as a symbol of the strength of Afghan women, who despite their circumstances stand up for their rights and take action to promote peace in Afghanistan.

Changing the image of Afghanistan


The second dimension of street art in Afghanistan is transforming the image of the state. Kabul is surrounded by a wall that was put up to protect the city from enemies but, in reality, it makes people feel as if they are trapped. Putting colorful murals on the wall makes it seem less threatening. The city is full of abandoned buildings, ruined by the bombs. Putting paintings on them makes the city’s landscape more appealing and gives proof of it’s touching history.

What is more, through art Hassani, ArtLords and other street artists aim to erase war from people’s minds. They make art accessible to everyone and inspire young Afghans to be creative. Under the Taliban rule, the freedom of creation and all kinds of art performances were restricted. To this day people are not truly familiar with modern art. The new generation of artists encourages changes to the way Afghan people see it. Instead of teaching traditional techniques they show people new, innovative solutions, and invite them to be free and create their own artistic style.

Through street art, the artists want to make the international community notice Afghanistan not because of constant conflict and war, but because of its nonconformist art and authentic spirit of people.