News / Arts & Entertainment

Afghan Female Artist Beats the Odds

Afghan artist Malina Suliman is pictured inside The Venue art gallery in Kabul December 2, 2012.
Afghan artist Malina Suliman is pictured inside The Venue art gallery in Kabul December 2, 2012.
Reuters
Charred bodies lie scattered against blood-stained walls and debris covers the ground. For Afghanistan, the only unusual thing in this gruesome scene is that the blood is red paint - and part of an art installation.

It's a work by Afghan artist Malina Suliman, 23, who risks her life, sometimes working by flashlight after dark, to create art in southern Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban and still one of the country's most dangerous areas.

A visitor views artwork at The Venue art gallery in Kabul December 2, 2012.
A visitor views artwork at The Venue art gallery in Kabul December 2, 2012.
Her pieces, which range from conceptual art to paintings and sculpture, are bold representations of the problems facing her generation and have drawn praise from top officials in Kandahar, making her exceptional in a place where women face even greater restrictions than in other parts of the country.

"Many people had never seen an art installation... Some were offended and others were hurt because they'd experienced it before,'' Suliman said of  "War and Chaos,'' which was in an exhibit last year and depicts the aftermath of a suicide bombing, an all too common event in Kandahar.

Her haunting, powerful pieces earned her an invitation last year to President Hamid Karzai's palace in Kabul, where she showed her art to the Afghan leader, who is also from Kandahar.

Suliman's artwork is now making waves in the Afghan capital of Kabul, where she lived after fleeing the violence of her native province as a child. In December, she had two exhibits there, a highlight of which was a sculpture of a woman in baggy clothing with a noose tied around her neck.

Afghan artist Malina Suliman paints graffiti on a wall in Kandahar city December 30, 2012.
Afghan artist Malina Suliman paints graffiti on a wall in Kandahar city December 30, 2012.
An exhibit in Kandahar, where the Taliban and tribal elders dominate public opinion, was the first there in three decades. She drew a mostly male crowd of around 100, including Kandahar governor Tooryalai Wesa and some of Karzai's relatives.

"I was taken aback by her work. I had only seen great art abroad, but never here,'' Wesa later told Reuters, recalling the exhibit, which featured a painting of a fetus in the womb suspended from a tree and being pulled in different ways. "I hope it persuades more women to do the same.''

Suliman said this piece, called "Today's Life'', reflected the frustrations of her generation.

"Before a child is born, the parents are already thinking that a son can support them and a daughter can be married off to a wealthy suitor. They don't stop to think what the child may want,'' she said.

Slow progress for art

Thirty years of war and conflict, starting with the Soviet invasion of 1979, effectively shelved Afghanistan's art scene. The austere 1996-2001 rule of the Taliban then banned most art outright, declaring it un-Islamic.

Since the Islamist group was toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces almost twelve years ago, large Afghan cities have resurrected something of an art movement, but progress is slow.

Herat city, in the country's west, now has art studios for rent, while Mazar-e-Sharif in the north has an artist collective and a lively graffiti scene.

Suliman, who is self-confident and energetic with almond-shaped eyes, joined the Kandahar Fine Art Association, a relatively new, all-male group whose goal is to support and exhibit local art, one year ago.

The small collective of 10 artists caught the eye of the Ministry of Information and Culture, which funded and last year opened Kandahar's first art gallery, where Suliman has exhibited. Since she joined the collective, several more Kandahar-based female artists have come on board.

But the stakes remain high.

"One of our biggest fears is that people will mistake us for creating art for foreigners or working with NGOs. People who work with NGOs get shot without question in Kandahar,'' she said.

Afghan artist Malina Suliman paints graffiti on a wall in Kandahar city December 30, 2012.
Afghan artist Malina Suliman paints graffiti on a wall in Kandahar city December 30, 2012.
Despite her success, Suliman has received threatening phone calls warning her against attending her own exhibits, and the Taliban have spoken out against her.

Even creating her art must take place away from public view. She often waits until after dusk, working with a dim flashlight.

Suliman recalls her first exhibit in Kandahar last year, and how she trembled as she made her way towards the gallery, in fear of it being bombed.

"I was so scared... Whenever there is a gathering of government officials it becomes a target,'' she said.

But one of Suliman's greatest challenges lies at home. "The night of my first exhibit my family told me 'if you go, don't come back','' she said with a wry laugh.

While her sisters and mother now support her ambition and passion, her brothers and property developer father remain fiercely opposed -- attitudes typical for Afghanistan.

She is now looking to expand Kandahar's budding art scene to nearby Helmand, hoping to secure locally-sourced funds for workshops and training.

When asked if she is scared, she mentions her sculpture of the hanged woman and smiles.

"That's what happens to women when they ask for their rights in this country,'' she says, impudently.

You May Like

South Korea Divided on Response to North’s Cyber Attack

In past five years, officials in Seoul have accused Pyongyang of hacking into banks, government websites, causing chaos and inflicting millions of dollars in damages More

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Bentiu

Residents have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy, but planning for the future remains uncertain as fear of attacks looms More

2015 Could Be Watershed for Syria Conflict

Republican control of US Senate in January could lead to more aggressive policy against IS militants in Syria - and against regime of Bashar al-Assad More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Jane Monheit Christmas Speciali
X
December 22, 2014 8:15 PM
Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Jane Monheit Christmas Special

Chanteuse Jane Monheit sings the holiday classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and explains why it’s her favorite song of the season.
Video

Video Trade Talks Could Heat Up in 2015

With boosting trade a top priority for the Obama administration, 2015 may be the year that an agreement is finally reached on the Trans Pacific Partnership. But the trade deal, which is intended to boost trade between 12 Pacific countries, faces opposition as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Ugandan Doctors Aid Victims of Sudan's Civil War

In Sudan's state of South Kordofan, the number of amputees as result of civil war is in the thousands, but few have access to sufficient medical help. Adam Bailes recently visited the area and says a small team of Ugandan doctors has been providing remote help, producing new prosthetic limbs for those in need.
Video

Video Calm Amid Fear in Daily Life in S. Sudan’s Town of Bentiu

Six months ago, Bentiu was a ghost town. The capital of northern Unity State, near South Sudan’s important oil fields, had changed hands several times in fighting between government forces and rebels. Calm returned in November and since then, residents of Bentiu have been trying to regain some sense of normalcy. Bentiu’s market has reopened there are plans to start school again. But fears of new attacks hang heavy, as Benno Muchler reports from Bentiu.
Video

Video US Business Groups Press for Greater Access to Cuba

President Barack Obama's decision to do all he can to ease restrictions on U.S. trade, travel and financial activities with Cuba has drawn criticism from some conservatives and Republicans. People who bring tourists to the island and farmers who want to sell more food to Cuba, however, think they can do a lot more business with Cuba. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

Soul Lounge

"Soul Lounge" host Shawna Renee catches up with soul singer and songwriter Russell Taylor to hear what he’s been up to since winning the VH1 "You Oughta Know" title in 2013. She also convinces him to share a few songs from his album "War of Hearts."