Afghan artist finds his voice in murals
Published Saturday, June 18, 2016 6:46PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, June 19, 2016 11:18AM EDT
As Montreal’s mural festival wraps up on Sunday, one of the participating artists is enjoying the freedom to express himself through his art; a freedom that is restricted in his home country of Afghanistan.
Omaid Sharifi is the co-founder of Artlords, a group that creates large-scale murals all over the capital city Kabul.
“The beauty of it is, I invite the public to paint with me,” he said. “On each of these murals, I had over a hundred people painting. I had people that never held a brush in their hand.”
It hasn’t been easy to make his art in Kabul.
“I have to get permission for every work that I do,” he said. “Sometimes they like, sometimes they don’t, they give me a hard time.”
His artwork explores themes such as empowering women, creating new ideas about heroism and countering corruption. He said he is influenced by famed British artist Banksy, with whom there have been talks of collaborating in Afghanistan.
“We have a famous ‘I see you,’ it’s a pair of eyes that tells the people ‘I see you, I know you are stealing my money, I know you are stealing the taxpayers money,’” he said.
Before Artlords, there was very little street art in Kabul. Sharifi hopes the form continues to spread in his home country as people continue to fight for change.
“Nowadays, it’s really an art expression that is democratized,” said mural festival co-organizer Pierre Alain Benoit. “It can beautify the urban landscape, it can still send political messages, it can also be only festive. So, there’s a lot of reasons why it’s becoming a global trend.”
While Sharifi’s work was on display at the festival, he originally came to Montreal to work with human rights education group Equitas.
“Omaid is back in Montreal as part of our annual international human rights training program,” said Equitas Executive Director Ian Hamilton. “This year, we have over 100 educators in Montreal for three weeks.”
As part of his mission, Sharifi is teaching others how to use street art to effect positive change.
“The important thing about art is, it speaks to our heart and our emotions, not just our heads,” he said.