By: Somaya mandgar
In a corner of Bamyan city, two young female artists spent hours every day in a small art center, creating pyrography and fretwork artworks. Customers came to buy artworks. And many young artists used the center as a hub to learn pyrography and fretwork.
But the center was replaced by a fuel shop soon after the Taliban came to power. The founder, Maryam, has stopped working in the workshop, spending most of her at home.
“I feel like a bird in a cage” 15-year-old Maryam said. “I am very sad I cannot express, display, and produce artworks, all my dreams are shattered.”
Maryam asked us to use pseudonym to protect her identity.
Maryam and her friend founded the art center about four years ago in the hope of empowering themselves by producing artworks, and enabling other female artists to stand on their feet and make a living.
The Taliban haven’t officially banned pyrography and fretwork art. They, however, have punished musicians, closed music schools, and removed murals from the walls since they came to power. The Taliban also blew up the 15 -century-old Bamyan Buddha sculptures in 2001 during the group’s first rule.
These were enough reasons for Maryam to feel threatened as an artist, and stop working under the extremist government of the Taliban who loathe the art and artists.
The fact that Bamyan’s current governor is Abdullah Sarhadi is the man, who oversaw the Taliban’s destruction of giant Buddha sculptures, makes it even harder for Maryam to believe she would be allowed to continue her artistic works in her home province.
After the Taliban entered Bamyan last year, she took all her art tools and works to her home from the art center. Now dozens of her finished works are at her home. She also sends some of her works to a local shop for sale, though not too many customers buy them.
After she graduated from high school, Maryam was trained for six months to learn fretwork and pyrography. Then she and her partner started their own business. Each made between 15000-20000 AF monthly, an amount a little over 200 USD before the Taliban’s government. They produced landscapes, decorative artworks, and portraits, selling them to the customers who were mostly students, NGO workers, and government employees.
But now, most customers are gone, and few are willing to pay for artworks due to the ongoing economic recession in the country.
“The economy is so bad that people can’t buy bread to eat,” she said.
Starting the business wasn’t easy for Maryam from the very beginning. She didn’t have enough money to open the center, and buy the tools she needed.
“We went through a lot of difficulties to bring the workshop to this level,” Maryam said. “When we started, we had financial problems because we did not have the funds ready.”
But she didn’t give up chasing her dream, and continued until she achieved her goals.
There were two pyrography and fretwork art centers, led by women, in Bamyan before the Taliban.
The other one, named Salsal, was also closed soon after the fall of the former government. Basgol Karimi, 25, who founded Salsal, along with her friends, fled Afghanistan due to the threats she faced. She said was getting ready for an art exhibition when the Taliban overran Bamyan.
“It’s very painful for me that the girls whom we provided employment have lost their jobs,” Basgol said from France where she lives now. “It feels like I have lost everything, the paintings, I had worked on for days, are now in the corner of the house like useless objects.”