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Before Silence: Afghan Artists in Exile

February 12, 2022 IN WIP
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Dear Friend,

Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last August and the subsequent takeover by the Taliban, which has a long and brutal history of censoring artistic expression, many Afghan artists, including writers, musicians, filmmakers, and intellectuals, have been persecuted and targeted simply for being artists. Fearing for their lives, many artists have been forced to go into hiding, self-censor or destroy their creative work, or flee the country entirely, putting the future of the arts and culture in the country into question.

In the face of these challenges, ARC and Art at a Time Like This are launching Before Silence: Afghan Artists in Exile, an online exhibition presenting the work of nine multidisciplinary Afghan artists who have continued to create amidst these perilous circumstances. Through photographs, paintings, cartoons, murals, and performances, this powerful exhibition offers a complex dialogue on artists, danger, deprivation, and insecurity and asks viewers to consider what it means to be both Afghan and an artist at a time like this.


“This exhibition is an effort to illustrate the livelihood of some of the artists and photographers who had to make a difficult decision to flee the country to safety, many leaving behind their loved ones, dreams, and achievements.
They now grapple with an uncertain future.”

— Naseer Turkmani, Afghan photojournalist featured in Before Silence

Even before the takeover, numerous attacks across the country targeted cultural actors and venues, and artists were threatened and even abducted or killed by the Taliban as they regained power. But when Taliban insurgents took control of the country in August, the threats against artists rose to a new and dangerous level. ARC Program Assistant Juliette Verlaque recently delved into the history of the persecution of artists in Afghanistan and the current state of artistic freedom in the country.

The artists featured in the exhibition are Ali Rahimi, ArtLords, Latifa Zafar Attaii, Lida Afghan, Mohsin Taasha, Morteza Herati, Naseer Turkmani, Rada Akbar, and Shamayel Shalizi. Some artists, such as Ali Rahimi and Latifa Zafar Attaii, who have relocated to Iran, are creating new pieces in more familiar, but still new, environments. Others, such as ArtLords, who are accustomed to creating street art throughout Kabul, must now translate their site-specific murals to the entirely new locale and culture of Washington DC.

Global recognition and attention is absolutely crucial to ensuring that Afghan artists get the support from governments and humanitarian organizations that they so desperately need. Many countries have a years-long backlog for visa processing and are not dedicating the time and resources needed to adequately respond to this crisis.

With your support, we can fight for the rights and needs of Afghan artists and make sure that their plight is not forgotten amidst the 24-7 news cycle, the pandemic, and other emerging crises. We kindly invite you to write, share, post, and generally raise awareness about this exhibition using this social media kit.

Thank you so much for your support in defending artists and artistic freedom worldwide. I wish you and your loved ones good health in this uncertain time.




Julie Trébault
Director, Artists at Risk Connection (ARC)
PEN America

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People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International