Afghan woman - Rachel Schaus
Afghan woman – Rachel Schaus
By Rachel Schaus
August 21, 2009

Part of Afghanistan’s culture preservation is to inform the world of the modern history of fine art in Afghanistan.

With the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas, the attention of scientists resulted in the (re)discovery of ancient frescoes on the ceiling of the caves near to where the Buddhas once stood. It is quite possible that this art is some of the first fine art of the world.

After thirty years of war, it is surprising that artists were actually able to work. Some of today’s master Afghan artists were so desperate to paint during the last 20 years that they painted on plastic, they made their own canvas, and made their own paints.

Miniature Islamic Art and Calligraphy Art

Before about 1920, these were the only two types of fine art in Afghanistan. Many old examples can be found at the National Archives of Afghanistan. This style of painting is ancient, dating back thousands of years to the Sumerian time, and continuing today. Mr. Asef Alef is one of many of the current master calligraphy artists painting in Kabul.

The Beginning of Realism Art in Afghanistan

It seems that King Amanullah in the early part of the 20th century to begin to modernize Afghanistan. Wisely,. he knew the power of art in both preserving and modernizing culture. Promising Afghan teenagers were found and sent to Germany for rigorous training in the fine arts.

In the German Fine art schools, these teenagers were trained in different painting styles, techniques, and the history of art. They were also trained in music, language, and other liberal arts.

Three of the most influential artists to come out of that school were Mr. Ghulam Maimangee, Mr. Brezhna, and Abdul Aziz. They returned to Afghanistan. Mr.Ghulam built the first School of Arts to train more Afghan artists.

It was these master artists who brought Realism Art back from Germany to flower as the main art style of choice, both for artists and for Afghan society. Realism art is the first modern European art style to be acceptable in Islamic culture, except among fundamentalist Muslims. (Portraits of people are never acceptable to groups like the Taliban).

Impressionism Art is acceptable in the Afghan culture and examples of this are found from the time of Brezhna in the 1920’s.

The Kabul Fine Art Department began in the 1960’s, and has eight fine art masters teaching there today.

Why There is so Little Modern Afghan Art

Afghans just do not buy modern art, and foreigners, including the soldiers purchasing much of todays Afghan art, want art depicting Afghan culture. In an recent interview this writer had with Shukoor, the top Impressionist artist in Kabul right now, “Modern art flourishes in societies where things are constantly new and changing. According to the bulk of Afghanistan’s society, Modern Art is not really appreciated nor acceptable – it is not Islamic…”

Many Afghan artists do desire to paint in the modern style, but they must paint what sells to feed their families. Therefore, after 89 years, Realism and Impressionism are still the main art styles in the astonishingly beautiful paintings found in galleries in Kabul.

Revival of Afghanistan Culture

Despite setbacks, lack of support from society, government, and religion, young Afghan teens are clamoring for new ways. Mr. Zhakfar , a top Realism artist pointed out that for his summer training course, more than 200 young people, boys and girls applied for 10-12 spots in his training class!

Now, eight years after the overthrow of the Taliban government, Afghanistan is beginning to see the revival of fine art in Afghanistan, especially in Kabul. Artists have their own galleries – tiny galleries are popping up all over the main business districts of Kabul City. Art prices are slowly increasing in Kabul, and more information about Afghan art is making its way to the internet.

International efforts at bringing peace to Afghanistan are making a difference!