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Afghan artists recreate murals from their homeland in Brattleboro

AfghanMuralsGroupWorking-BMAC-Fletcher.jpg
Kelly Fletcher
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BMAC
Members of the group ArtLords work on a mural in downtown Brattleboro.

Editor's note: Vermont Public is only using the first names of the Afghan artists, at their request, to protect their families in Afghanistan.

It's been about a year since the American military pulled out of Afghanistan, and about 78,000 Afghan refugees made it to this country.

About 100 Afghans settled in southern Vermont. Members of the community recently worked with two artists from Providence, Rhode Island on a mural project in Brattleboro.

The group recently put up 17 murals, which are interpretations of similar murals that were painted in Afghanistan by a group known as ArtLords.

Negina joined ArtLords in 2017, and worked on more than 100 murals around Kabul, where she lived.

She was one of the lucky ones who got out before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban. She’s now living in southern Vermont, trying to bridge the gap between two cultures.

“In here we speak Persian, but the common language that we have in Brattleboro, and Vermont, is our art. So we can speak very well through our arts with the community that we have in here.”
Negina, Afghan artist

“In here we speak Persian, but the common language that we have in Brattleboro, and Vermont, is our art,” she said. “So we can speak very well through our arts with the community that we have in here.”

The evacuation from Afghanistan last year was rushed, and chaotic, and less than half of the roughly 100 members of ArtLords were able to get out.

Five of the mural artists, including Negina, ended up in southern Vermont, and they recently worked at the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center to recreate some of their murals.

Negina says the project fills her with pride and joy. But at the same time, she's despondent about the situation in Afghanistan.

“It’s not only a mural, it’s a message,” Negina said. “So it’s a mix of feelings I cannot describe. I’m safe. I’m good. But I also have my family back in Afghanistan. There’s other people, my people, my country in a bad situation. So they found their new home, but in each of the murals I have lots of memories, a good memory. So it’s a mix of feelings. I don’t know.”

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Kelly Fletcher
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The murals are put together with copies from the original mural (the eyes in this photo) with colored tape.

ArtLords started in 2014. It was a relatively peaceful period in Afghanistan, though the streets still had high cement blast walls to protect schools, mosques and government buildings.

Over seven years ArtLords painted more than 2,000 murals on the cement walls, all over the country.

But when the Taliban took over last year, one of the first things they did was paint over the murals.

Abdullah, one of the members of ArtLords now living in southern Vermont, said it was hard to hear that the murals were taken down.

“When I saw the murals that were whitewashed totally, like with the white color, I felt very hopeless,” he said. ”Like a country that doesn’t have art, it’s just like a feelingless human body, maybe, for me. So I was feeling really down at that moment.”

So these new murals in Brattleboro tell another story, Abdullah says.

After decades of war and bombings — of television images of blood in the markets and schools and mosques — Abdullah says there is more about Afghanistan he wants to share with his new neighbors.

AfghanMuralsGirlMural-BMAC-Fletcher.jpg
Kelly Fletcher
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“I have something that I can show to the people that something that can still give us some hope, that we are not useless anymore, or maybe hopeless anymore — but that’s not the case,” Abdullah said. “It gives me like some... my country, my culture is still alive there. Not dead.”

The Brattleboro Museum and Art Center brought in two mural artists from Providence who work with colored tape, and together with the Afghan artists they re-worked the murals.

They printed photos on vinyl from the murals in Afghanistan, then created new images, working strips of colored tape on walls around town.

“I have something that I can show to the people that something that can still give us some hope, that we are not useless anymore, or maybe hopeless anymore — but that’s not the case... My country, my culture is still alive there not dead.”
Abdullah, Afghan artist

So the art pieces are new, and in a way they tell an evolving story of how the Afghans are making their way in their new home.

An Afghan artist named Zhura reproduced, in Brattleboro, one of the murals she worked on in Kabul.

She said the original mural shows a man and woman carrying bricks. It was meant to bring attention to the rebuilding work in her country. That work got much harder after the Taliban took over.

But Zhura says that every Afghan refugee — here in Vermont, and all over the world — will continue rebuilding their lives, and their country and culture.

“When people see this they will understand what is going on, or what is happening,” Zhura said. “And art is also a reflection of inside. It’s also a message to the people, whatever is going on. It can be negative; it can be positive. But as an artist we are trying to make it more positive. That could give positive energy to the people who see that.”

The 17 murals will be up around Brattleboro through Sunday. There are maps and more information about the project at the museum.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public's reporter for Southern Vermont & the Connecticut River Valley. He worked at the Brattleboro Reformer for 11 years, reporting on most towns in the region and specializing on statewide issues including education, agriculture, energy and mental health. Howard received a BA in Journalism from University of Massachusetts. He filed his first story with Vermont Public in September 2015.
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