By: Ali Sadeqi
Khatera Omid invested more than half of her life creating engraving artworks in Herat. For many years, she went to her small office at Herat citadel, locally known as Ekhtiaruddin Fortress, almost every day, spending hours cutting lines into the wood to print designs and portraits.
But things changed for women after the Taliban came to power. They have been marginalized almost from every aspect of society, and the situation of art and artists is no better. In Taliban’s Afghanistan, being a woman and an artist is like being placed between two rocks.
Omid knows that it is almost impossible for her to continue, and that is the reason why she has lost motivation. Now, she visits the fortress only once every month and sometimes once every two months just to clean her office, and dust off her engraving tools and artworks.
She started engraving when she was just 13, but 20 years later, she has made one of the hardest decisions of her life. She said she has no other option but to say goodbye to art.
“It is difficult to forget art, but if you know it has become something extra and useless, then you have no other option but to quit,” Omid- 33 said. “I have to go after another job to survive.”
Though the Taliban have told her she can continue working in her office, she is no longer interested to be an artist due to the restrictions imposed on women, and the artists in Afghanistan.
She said she is doing self-censorship in her work because she feels threatened. She used to engrave human faces. But now she mainly prints verses of holy Quran on wood, a move aims to appease the ultra-extremist Taliban.
Before the Taliban, lots of tourists, who visited Herat’s historic fortress, would often stop by Omid’s shop to buy her artworks.
“I knew the taste of my foreign clients and I prepared their favorite works beforehand,” she said.
Engraving is an art which “turns a worthless wood” into something “precious,” according to Omid who said she can also engrave on copper, stone and metal.
As the only female engraver of Herat, Omid was a source of inspiration for many women not long ago. She has created over a thousand artworks since started working two decades ago. She often spoke to the media about her distinctive works. Omid established “Khatera engraving foundation” in 2005 to train more students to become engraving artists. She dreamed of expanding her foundation.
But all her fame vanished and her dreams dashed after the fall of the former government. “We suddenly reversed,” she said about how women lost their rights rapidly.
Omid said she made around 100,000 Afghani annually, an amount over 1,000 USD, by selling her artworks. But her income has now dropped to zero. She is a graduate of economics, and she also ran another small business of vegetable oil, and honey production which also collapsed after the Taliban came to power.
She auctioned off her works and tools, then traveled to Kabul, from where she hoped to find a way to leave Afghanistan but she didn’t succeed.
Now, she has decided to stay. No matter at what cost.
“My friends are advising me to leave Afghanistan. My Iranian customers are telling me to move to Iran where my work will be valued,” she said. “But I tell them, I will stay in Afghanistan, someday people may grow fond of art, and our government may also take a serious decision to save art and value artists.”