Kabul may be short of many things, but it has lots of concrete blast walls. And that is inspiring a group of nascent graffiti artists to give voice, however fearfully, to a biting critique of graft, economic inequality and the second-class status of women in their country.
Protest graffiti is a new and still-tentative mode of expression in a society with little tradition of social dissent. Like their Western counterparts, Afghan wall writers work furtively and sometimes at night to avoid arrest. But their scribblings don't lionize street gangs, entertainers or sports teams.
"Parliament shouldn't be filled with criminals," says one scrawl, in Dari, on the block-long wall of the Teachers Training University in Kabul, a prime canvas for protest graffiti.
Dy's favorite scrawls include "parliament = this barn," on the wall of a stable, suggesting that both buildings produce manure, and "warlord = jackass."
Historically, graffiti in Afghanistan was mostly advertising — for translation services, real estate agents and handymen. In the 1980s, Afghan mujahedin used graffiti to taunt their Soviet occupiers, scrawling messages on destroyed tanks and artillery. More recently, NATO forces and the Taliban have waged "tagging duels" on village walls, particularly in disputed southern provinces.
Oh swell. Now we're going after their hearts and minds with "Yo momma's so ugly...".
Combat Communications, a group of anonymous, Kabul-based foreign artists, and British graffiti artist Wayne "Chu" Edwards held a weeklong workshop for several aspiring Afghan artists in December.
After sessions on symbolism, making stencils and wielding a spray can, their final project involved realizing their ideas on an abandoned factory wall on the outskirts of Kabul.
It never dawned on me before that those people are so backwards they have to be taught how to hold a spray can! That speaks volumes, mostly "Holy shit! What are we trying to do there?"
On a recent evening, he tagged some houses in an upscale neighborhood inhabited by warlords and drug traffickers, writing: "This is drug money, corruption."
The kid's got more balls than I do, that's for sure!
I think we should finance this "street art" program. I betcha our military has lotsa taggers who would love to mentor these Afghani kids. At least we'd get something pretty to look at for the $Billions we've blown in that shithole.
And while we're at it, let's help out the Taliban taggers too. Air drop 'em our best spray paint along with instructions on how ta huff it. A special batch from our paint manufacturers, heavy on the toluene and mind-fucking chemicals. The fear factor and their aggressiveness would diminish as soon as the Taliban are known as the "Goofy Gold-Faced Goat Humpers". That they might forget to show up to plant the IEDs they forgot to make would be a bonus.