Before he became a well-known artist in Kabul, Afghanistan, 47-year-old Mohammad Salim Attaie had to join the army at 16. He was fighting the Russians, who had occupied Afghanistan in the ’80s. When he turned 20, Attaie left the army and sustained himself by doing odd jobs like selling tea, working at construction sites, and so on. At that time he also started painting. The year 2002 was the turning point of his life when he opened his gallery, whose name, Nootaq, meaning starting from scratch, accurately captures the story of his inspiring life.
In Delhi for a group exhibition titled Contemporary Art from Afghanistan, Attaie spoke to Guardian 20 about his art. “Looking at the paintings by other artists, I was very inspired. I thought that I would like to see myself paint as well. And that’s how I took up painting. If people would like to learn from me, I am open to teaching,” he said.
This exhibition is a joint endeavour by Prabhu Ghatte, a retired IAS officer, and Anita Anand, a development and communication specialist. Both of them are constantly involved in welfare work for the people in Afghanistan.
Anand said, “I have been regularly visiting Afghanistan since 2004. There was a great deal in developing Afghanistan which was completely destroyed by Taliban’s forces in 2001. And the country needed much rebuilding. A friend of Ghatte told him that a few artists will be visiting Delhi to sell their artworks as they are finding it difficult to sell them here. Hence, we were involved in setting up this exhibition.”
She further added, “Afghanistan has been a place which has a rich history of arts and culture, music and dance. The beautiful sculptures of Gautama Buddha from 4th and 5th centuries, called Buddhas of Bamiyan, were also destroyed by the Taliban. Now the funds which came from international sources are drying up and the economy is very bad. That’s why Attaie is here to sell his works. It is a sad situation actually.”
The exhibition features three more artists from Afghanistan, namely Abdul Fatah Amar, Mohammad Azim Rawofi and Mohibullah Attaie.
Contemporary Art from Afghanistan: A Land in Conflict and Hope, is on view at the Annexe Art Gallery of Delhi’s India International Centre till 29 May