Art in Afghanistan: the revealing of cruelty and banality

January 2007 -

Prince Claus Fund laureate 2006 Lida Abdul on the possible - and desirable - role of the arts in present Afghan society. I don't think there can be any prescribed role for art because if people seek in art some sort of instrumentality they will reduce it to just another technique that distracts, entertains or relaxes them. Of course it could do all that but art doesn't have to. I've always thought of making art -art has to be a verb because its effect has to simulate movement somewhere and not simply a repetition of the same that happens with religious art - as creating spaces that are replete with everything that cultures consciously or unconsciously want to forget. Think of them as spaces in which the viewer, listener and reader is shocked, seduced or traumatized so that the packaged, homogenized and ideological engagement with the outside is challenged and its banality and cruelty is revealed.


(c) Lida Abdul

So what can artists do for Afghans today: to begin the work of creating traditions that are simultaneously connectors with the past and harbingers of some coming world. What could this mean for a people which is traumatized, beaten and dispossessed? To answer this question one has to think about what goes into making a work of art. A sense of history, a recognition that the work will be inflected with the time and place and biography of the maker and the realization that the experiment that a work is might fail so that one tries again. The same can be said about how a destroyed society moves forward: a truth and reconciliation with the past, a specificity and abstraction that creates the sense of the uncanny and the hope that the work will open up the repressed desires of the men and women of that society.

I believe that the lives of women will only change when the consciousness will change and if this has to happen through education or shaming those misogynistic men then so be it.

Maybe what I have said above is not a formula for a petition for another world but we must remember that the formula called democracy took years to perfect and is constantly threatened by attempts to turn democracy into a mechanical system that can be reproduced anywhere without taking into account where that society is at that moment.

Making work in Afghanistan was difficult but the more I did it the more I realized it was necessary. The problem is that some men in Afghanistan see women as objects that at some point elicit in them desires that will make them challenge the packaged and desiccated morality that they are forced to live by. These same men reject art and music because they are afraid of the contingency of desire.

Lida Abdul (1973, Afghanistan) is a visual artist who uses diverse media including video, film, photography, installation and live performance to explore and visualize issues of 'home' and identity. She fights against the senseless destruction of cultural heritage in her country and highlights women's role in society. The outstanding artistic quality of her work is combined with powerful political and social statements, and is recognized both within Afghanistan and internationally. Lida Abdul regularly exhibits and teaches in Kabul.