A year after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, artists organize a memorial kite festival

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To mark one year since the capture of Kabul by the Taliban, and in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan, a festival of kites, storytelling, music, poetry and dance will be launched across the UK and Europe on August 20.

fly with me is a free festival organized by Afghan artists and Good Chance Theater which will take place in 16 venues across the UK and Europe. Participants will be able to take part in kite-making and storytelling workshops and get together for a kite party.

“In Afghanistan, kites occupy a unique space between a national art form and a national sport. They are a universal symbol of expression, skill and cultural pride,” says Sanjar Qiam, a UK-based Afghan refugee and kite master who is one of the co-organizers of the fly with me festival.

fly with me is an act of solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and an opportunity for all of us to come together and feel the ties that connect us to this incredible country, its culture and its people through our fingers,” said Qiam.

Festival organizers are also calling on the UK government to treat all asylum seekers fairly and equitably and to treat Afghan refugees with the same respect and open-mindedness as refugees from Ukraine.

Afghanistan, one year later

On August 15, 2021, two weeks before the scheduled withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan and after months of intense fighting between the Afghan army and Taliban forces, the war came to an abrupt end when news spread that the President, Ashraf Ghani, had fled the country. Taliban fighters entered Kabul without facing much resistance and soon after announced that they were the country’s new rulers.

The rapid takeover sent panic across Afghanistan, especially among those who had spent years working with Western allies, including Afghan artists and cultural figures. Tens of thousands of Afghans rushed desperately to find a way out of the country in an effort to escape Taliban persecution. However, only a fraction of those in danger made it out.

This table titled In search of peace (2022) was created in secret by a prominent Afghan artist who was left behind in Afghanistan despite more than a decade of working with Western allies. With the colors of the flag of Afghanistan in the background, the artist shows figures covered and naked with their panicked faces, screaming and without order to express the chaotic feeling inside the country.

A limited number of artists and cultural figures have had access to evacuation flights out of the country. The majority traveled to France, whose artistic community rallied behind the artists and lobbied local authorities to help. As the arts were largely unrecognized by Western allies as a life-threatening field, artists, including controversial visual artists, musicians, university professors, actors and famous directors were left behind. With memories of how they were beaten, tortured and killed during the last Taliban regime still fresh in their minds, many artists destroyed their artwork, buried musical instruments and went into hiding to avoid harm. be discovered and punished for their work and for collaborating with “infidels”. “. The Art Newspaper published the series “Dispatches from Afghanistan” where artists shared their experiences since the rise of the Taliban.

Hopeless, in danger and without a future, a group of leading Afghan artists and cultural figures wrote an open letter to key world leaders in December 2021, pleading for rescue. Art advocates and activists worked tirelessly to draw attention to their plight and to convince the British government and other Western allies to help evacuate those in danger, but to no avail.

As murals and signs of the arts were removed from public view by the Taliban, cultural heritage advocates began to sound the alarm over illegal excavations and looting in the listed Bamiyan Valley. listed as World Heritage in Danger by Unesco in 2003, with some experts warning that activities could cause the precious cliff to crumble.

Under pressure, the Taliban, who are trying to portray themselves as a changed and modern group, have halted excavations near the cliff, which once housed the 6th and 7th century Buddha statues before they were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. However, the new Taliban government failed to set up a watchdog body to enforce the laws and restrictions that were introduced to safeguard the valley and its treasures. As a result, the once heavily protected area is subject to illegal construction and activities that continue to threaten to damage the site.

The first real test of Taliban governance came in June 2022 when a powerful earthquake devastated countless villages in eastern Afghanistan, killing more than 1,000 people and injuring thousands. others. The new government was slow and chaotic in its initial response. Efforts were eventually intensified as international aid agencies stepped in to help. It is not known if any archaeological sites were damaged during the earthquake.

An uncertain future

As the Taliban tightened their grip on the country, the gains made over the years, especially in women’s rights and freedom of expression, were undone. Universities banned music and sculpture. Both departments were disbanded and their students were forced to move to other art departments such as graphic design. Women should wear loose, long black clothing when on campus. Art teachers and instructors are warned against including human figures in their curriculum or else they risk sanctions and art students remain uncertain about what kind of future they will have in a country that has virtually banned the arts.

In recent months, Germany has taken steps to save Afghan arts and culture by granting entry to a number of Afghan artists and cultural figures from a wide variety of backgrounds, with the promise of doing more in the coming months. However, the acceptance procedure remains a mystery and appears to be based on recommendations from trust groups or individuals with ties to the Foreign Office. Afghan artists themselves cannot contact anyone to present their cases. Still, the efforts are welcome as Germany appears to be the only country currently providing aid to the Afghan arts community.

Sanjar Qiam with a group of children, preparing for the fly with me festival Courtesy of Good Chance Theater

While the US, UK and other Western governments still refuse to officially recognize the Taliban government, Afghanistan, which depended on foreign aid for around 80% of its public spending, remains isolated in the in the midst of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.

“By making and flying kites in the Afghan tradition, led by Afghans who have rebuilt their lives in Europe, and open to all, we will stand in solidarity with Afghans in the final affront to their freedom and remind the world of the devastating humanitarian crisis that still plagues Afghanistan today,” said Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, co-artistic directors of the Good Chance Theatre.

• For details on fly with me and how you can help or participate visit the website

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