From Kyiv to Gaza to Baghdad, conflicts around the globe have silenced artists and left both works of art and cultural heritage sites in ruin. Driven by the transformative power of art and a desire to promote the artists who translate that power, artist and activist Omaid Sharifi co-founded ArtLords in 2014 to help convert the negative psychological impact of blast walls on the people of Kabul into a positive visual experience.

Sharifi joined The Culture Show along with ArtLords artist and current Dean College student, Fatima Wojohat, to discuss the ever-shifting art scene in Afghanistan, and the political realities underlying those shifts.

“Let me put it like this — I used to live under the Taliban when they were in control of Kabul from 1996 to 2001. That was a time of oppression,” says Sharifi. “Nobody was dreaming.”

When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, creating art was dangerous. The government disapproved of music and banned all artistic representations of the human form. They saw art as a threat — as an expression of protest and resistance.

After 2001, when Afghanistan largely functioned as a more open society, art — especially public art — flourished. According to Sharifi, “it opened a window to the world … It encouraged us to dream.”

A painting of a woman wearing red and orange colors, with Arabic writing across her face.
"This is me" a 2023 acrylic painting on canvass by ArtLords artist Fatima Wojohat.
Fatima Wojohat

By painting murals depicting issues facing ordinary citizens on the blast walls, ArtLords spent a decade creating communal spaces where social issues could be expressed visually and discussed in the street, where the open art workshops took place. It was by painting one of these hundreds of murals that Sharifi met the then teenage artist, Wojohat.

“My mom took me to ArtLords and I was really excited because I felt like I was going to be an artistic soldier,” she told The Culture Show. “We would be making a change for the community.”

But since the Taliban returned to power in 2021, much public art has literally been wiped out and artists are again being oppressed — especially female artists like Wojohat, who has since been forced to leave Afghanistan.

As Sharifi put it, “for me it was like, I went to sleep, I was dreaming of this beautiful, open world where I was traveling, I was making art, I was meeting people, and suddenly I woke up and it’s darkness again. I think that’s what happened to all of us in Afghanistan; we were given a lot of hope, we thought we could bring solutions for our own problems, that we could be part of this global community, and then suddenly everything went back to that black-and-white.”

Sharifi and Wojohat joined The Culture Show host Jared Bowen to discuss the ways ArtLords continues to fight for art and women both at home and abroad.

Listen to the full conversation above, and tune into 89.7 every day at 2 p.m. to hear The Culture Show live.