Traditional Painting

A few days ago I went to visit the Academy of Fine Arts.

In a painting class, young men and women are busy with chains and hammers building the frames for their canvasses. In another, all the easels are arranged in a U shape and the last year students are reproducing in a large format a landscape they had already copied in a small size.

The teacher, with a leg shorter than the other, invites me to go around and see his students’ works.

They are mostly traditional landscapes: not too different from one may have expected from any class of academic painting – except for the local flavour.

There is a Buzkashi game – the traditional Afghan “sport”, a kind of polo where they use a goat instead of the ball; there are women walking on the street wearing burqa; two beggars; another traditional game where two men push each other with a leg tied in the back; there are farmers fetching water from a brook. Then I reach the canvas of a tall, thin young man; he shows me his work: the landscape begins to the left with Afghan mountains and then slowly turns into a sand desert with a sphinx and the Egyptian pyramids. On the front of the painting there are two men an Afghan and an Arab wearing traditional costumes. I smile a confused smile, congratulate him for his effort and move on.

I end my round on the other side of the room where the women are painting. There is a woman with a severe face and a tight headscarf, she looks at me a bit suspiciously. She is panting Kabul, in the background there is the Darul Aman Palace, the majestic royal palace that now lays in ruins, in the painting it is in a better shape than it is in reality. The sky is opaque, as it is typically here. An American soldier with a helmet and a flak jacket is in the foreground, he walks towards the viewer holding hands with two children, a boy and a girl. “Interesting”, I say. She looks at the teacher and asks him to translate. “There used to be a beautiful palace, then we had many wars. The Americans also brought their bombs here. The soldier gives his back to the palace, he walks away after having contributed to its destruction. And he leaves holding hands with two children and thinking that he is helping to build the future of this country.”

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