Over the next 12 months, a collaborative initiative involving Australian and Afghan artists and journalists will analyze the legacy of Afghanistan’s 20-year battle through a series of art exhibitions and multi-disciplinary events.
On Thursday, the Twenty Years initiative will go off with a two-night public forum involving Afghan musicians, poets, journalists, and activists from Australia and around the world.
The symposium, which is supported by the Australia Council and the advocacy and research organisation Diversity Arts Australia, will look at the role of Afghans in the diaspora as well as the future of culture and media in Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Twenty Years will use video, photography, text, public events, and art exhibitions to dissect the role of western powers, including Australia, in the occupation of Afghanistan, media coverage, and the rise of Islamophobia following 9/11, according to the project’s co-founder, freelance journalist Antony Loewenstein.
“Now that the Taliban has retaken control of the country, the real, unvarnished history of the post-9/11 war is a grim parade of western-backed war crimes, mistakes, ignorance, racism, and silencing,” he stated.
“Pro-war commentators, gung-ho journalists, and belligerent politicians get far too much airtime pontificating on a war they helped start and fuel for two decades.”
“We want to provide a different perspective, one that is more reflective and critical.”
Najiba Noori, an Afghan photojournalist, will attend the Australian forum this week from her new home in Paris.
She told the Guardian Australia that her job in her own country had no future.
“I use social media to keep up with what’s going on in the world.” The Taliban has nominated a new head of the University of Kabul, who has called for the execution of all journalists. The art school has been shut down. My brother’s music school, where he was learning guitar, has also closed.”
Elyas Alavi, an Afghan-born visual artist and poet who sought asylum in Australia as a Hazara refugee in 2007, held an exhibition of his work in Kabul in 2014 before returning to Afghanistan in 2016.
He expressed concern that he might never be able to return to Afghanistan.
He remarked, “A friend told me he’s burning his paintings… and I’ve heard of people burning their philosophy and art books.”
“Right now, he and some of his family, the majority of them, are hiding because they have no idea what’s going to happen.” The Taliban are scouring people’s phones for [material] that violates Sharia law, and they’re specifically targeting writers, artists, and members of the LGBTQI community.”
The Afghan-Australian community, according to Alavi, feels misled by the Australian government.
“The prime minister says Afghanistan is a tragic country with a tragic history, and Australia can’t do anything about it; it’s the fate of these people, and it’ll always be a tragedy,” said the now-based artist in Adelaide.
“However, the government has the ability to get more people at risk out than the 3,000 additional visas announced… and there are no permanent visas for those who are already here.”
Loewenstein, who visited Afghanistan in 2012 and 2015 for research for a book and film, said the Twenty Years project had provided him with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to collaborate with Afghan artists on something enduring that would challenge media-driven perceptions of Afghanistan.
He stated, “I vividly remember reporting from insurgent territory in the country and seeing and hearing Afghans caught in the middle of a senseless war.” “Afghan art is one way to build something beautiful and provocative in the face of futility.”