Keeping an eye on the walls of Kabul
Keeping an eye on the walls of Kabul
Mudassar Shah

KABUL — Eyes are always described as a symbol of beauty in art and eastern literature, but the two eyes painted on a wall in Kabul's Share New neighborhood have literally beautified an ugly security wall. And in this case, eyes are used as a symbol of monitoring corruption.

These "we are watching" eyes were created by the ArtLords, a group of young creatives who paint war-torn walls across the city of Kabul. "We have been facing cultural and social problems in Afghanistan, and art has never been used to solve disputes," says the group's leader Kabir Mokamel. "Instead force is used to solve the disputes and issues in Afghanistan. Art is soft power and a tool to use for peace in the country."

Photo: ArtLords Facebook page

Mokamel graduated with a fine arts degree in Australia and retuned to Afghanistan four years ago only to realize that the city had lost its beauty. He gathered some friends, and together they have painting walls since June. He says their message is clear: peace and clean government.

"We want to show that violence is not a solution," Mokamel says. "Bloodshed should be quelled on earth and corruption should be stopped too in our country since it breeds other evils."

The latest report from Transparency International ranks Afghanistan among the top three most corrupt countries in the world. Another ArtLords member, Omar Shafiri, believes that art speaks a thousand words.

"I prefer to use arts, music and dance since these attract young people," Shafiri says. "We use what they're most interested in to convey our message. And a lot of young people want to join us now."

High school student Nasir Kakar passes the walls every day. "The ArtLords group has taken away the ugliness of the walls with the strokes of their brushes," he says, adding that bought cold drinks for them once.

As a self-funded group, ArtLords hopes to highlight social issues with its public graffiti. Its latest project is called "the heroes of my city: the street sweepers."

"Heroes in Afghanistan are always considered those who have weapons and arms," Mokamel says. "We want to change the concept of a hero in our country and want to portray sweepers as heroes who clean the city daily."

Mokamel also wants to invite Pakistani artists to paint the walls here. After a recent bombing in Kabul, in which Pakistanis were blamed for the incident, things have been tense between the two countries. Mokamel believes his project could be the perfect antidote.

"We want to bridge the Afghan and Pakistani communities and bring them close to each other," he says. "Art doesn't have boundaries, while politics divides us. People should exchange ideas, and art has the power to do it."

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