A group of Afghan activists and artists are attempting to reclaim Kabul after years of war – by arming themselves with paintbrushes. Because of the poor security situation, many defensive walls have sprung up around high-profile buildings in the city, and these provide the ArtLords with their canvases.
The group has produced a series of paintings of eyes on the walls, which are mostly accompanied by the slogan “I See You” and are designed as a warning to corrupt officials. This set of eyes, on the wall of the National Directorate of Security (NDS), mysteriously disappeared only a few days after it was painted in December.
After a huge public outcry, the NDS asked the ArtLords to draw the painting again, but on a different wall, which the ArtLords refused to do. “Now we have the same eyes and slogans on the same wall,” ArtLords founder Omaid Sharifi says.
Omaid Sharifi (shown working on a painting in this photo), says he wants the paintings to penetrate the politicians’ defences.
“They use these walls for protection and we want to take all that down.” Baryalai Fetrat, sociology lecturer at Kabul University, says these paintings are “a powerful tool” for bringing about social change, cutting as they do across the educational divide.
Policewoman Fariba Hamid was painted on the security wall of Kabul’s ninth police district, where she serves. The portrait was put up to celebrate International Women’s Day in March.
“We face lots of struggles,” the policewoman said of her role.
This painting appeared near the area in Kabul where an Afghan woman, Farkhunda, was fatally lynched by a group of men just over a year ago. She was falsely accused of burning the Koran.
The slogan beneath the picture says: “A brave man supports women.”
Not all the paintings are political – this one suggests a caravan of love from a country at war.
And the ArtLords have shown their work outside Afghanistan too.
This installation, which was showcased in Berlin in December, was “a mixed work between us and German artists”, Omaid Sharifi says. It was based on an image taken in 2014 at a camp for internally displaced people in Afghanistan.
Photographer Rada Akbar was documenting underage marriage when she captured a young mother, Naghma, and her baby daughter on film. Naghma, who was then 19, had been married for two years and had lived in the camp for 15 years.