(August 25, 2021) For the past few weeks, Oman Niazi, in his tiny flat in Delhi, has been glued to the television watching the developments in his native Afghanistan. His heart sank as the Afghanistan government led by Ashraf Ghani collapsed helplessly, and the Taliban effortlessly took control of the country’s major cities and eventually Kabul. The move sent shockwaves worldwide.
Niazi, who belongs to the Ghazni province in central Afghanistan, around 150 kilometres south of Kabul, left his country with his family a few years back and moved to India. “I feel extremely helpless watching the Taliban coming back to power. People, especially artists there, live a life of fear,” says Niazi, who is in constant touch with the people back home.
The 52-year-old lived in Afghanistan under the democratically civilian government for many years; yet life was never easy for him as an artist. Niazi paints, writes poems and has a liberal outlook towards life and Ghazni was always volatile with Taliban sympathizers all around. In an exclusive interview Global Indian, Niazi said,
“It was never an easy decision for us to leave our country. But according to the Taliban, my work is haram. If you draw a person’s face, they consider it to be sin. They’d rather kill those who pursue art as a profession.”
In retrospect, he may have just made the right decision to leave Afghanistan, for now with the Taliban takeover he could have been prime target.
After coming to India, Niazi was able to focus on his work better and establish himself. “Life is more peaceful here. With so much violence happening in my country, I always worried about my daughter’s future. I feel more secure here, while I pray every day that my country returns to normal and people live peacefully,” he adds.
Niazi is a unique artist. He uses the process of applying of heat on wheat straw to carve out portraits and landscapes. His innovative artwork focuses on Afghan women and famous Indian historical figures such as Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Today, his work was thriving in Delhi. The artist used to run three art studios around Delhi, one in Mirza Ghalib street in old Delhi and two in Tilak Nagar in West Delhi. But at present, he has none. COVID-19 has had a significant impact on the lives of artists like him.
The situation back home keeps him awake at night, and while he also dreams of going back someday, the recent developments have managed to destroy those dreams. He believes that the situation may only worsen for Afghan artists like him.
“The Taliban has been very clear about its views about art and artists. We have heard some horrifying stories of their intolerance in the past, and we see many more now that they are in power. I only hope that life gets better for everybody.”
So worried is he about what the future holds for Afghanistan that he finds it better to live in India in safe and secure along with his family and shelves the memories of his ancestral home for the time being. “It’s better to lead a peaceful life here than risk our lives,” he smiles.