Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Galleria in the Media

In-flight Magazine belonging to Safi Airways has just featured Mud Art of Akram, a resident artist of The Galleria, in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue [issue no. 11]. Text is at the bottom. For More info, please see Akram's page on this blog.

Nov/Dec 2011


When the term ‘Afghan art’ is mentioned, most think of either Tela Tapa’s Greco-Bactrian statuettes, Behzad’s classical miniatures, Steve McCurry’s Sharbat Gul, the National Geographic’s world renowned Afghan Girl or the infamous buzkashi randitions. The Classical Period or the Golden Age of Afghan art has long passed and while 1970’s saw a mini Renaissance of art, Afghanistan did not fully develop its own style of art.

However, things are about to change. A young Afghan artist may have created a form of art that Afghanistan can call its very own. It is both unique and profound. Going simply by his first name only, Akram has been painting with mud and other natural elements found in Afghanistan. Calling himself a mason, [Dari: gilkaar, literally: mud worker] he has been making wonderful pieces of work, by using mud on paper.

What is most unique about this fresh approach and new way of doing art is its originality and simplicity. Akram has worked with watercolor and oil paint, creating some great pieces. However, he felt that paint has become an overrated medium, so he experimented with mud, after a friend commented on the low quality of Chinese oil paint tubes, saying it is better to paint with mud than with these paints. That comment sparked a thought in Akram’s mind and thus began a quest to use mud effectively as paint. After a year’s effort and constant experiments, he finally found the basic ingredients and methods to use natural elements to create amazing works of art.  Aside from using a variety of mud, he uses brick, kohl, lapis and other semi-precious stones to get the colors he needs.

This young, innovative & profoundly talented artist is originally from Ghazni. He studied under the famous master artists of Herat, coming back last year to his native birthplace to exhibit his newly learned talent and innovation to the local crowd first - as a way to honor his city.  However, his childhood Madrasa (religious seminary school) classmates, now Taliban commanders, found Akram’s idea of creating forms from mud not so original, citing divine scripture to argue that there was someone else who created a couple of works from mud and called them Adam and Eve. Moreover, these classmates did not have a sense of humor about this copy right infringement and invited Akram to bring his pieces to them for ‘approval’, one day prior to the world-première exhibition. Needless to say Akram left town before dusk, as his year’s effort of experimenting and 40 artworks followed in the next bus out of town the following day, wrapped in thick fabric inside a box - to avoid any association, if caught.

Fortunately the artist and all his artwork survived. The following month, at his world exhibition at The Galleria, the largest private gallery in Afghanistan, Akram admitted that far from playing God, he wants to challenge himself and others to create new works, new thoughts and new approaches. A former Madrasa student, Akram signed up for Herat University’s Department of Fine Arts, the best art school in the country, as a dare to his friends who all could not get into the school of architecture.

After a semester of goofing off at school, Akram did not find much to laugh about when his grades were posted. He then promised himself to be the best artist he could be.  Taking private lessons from such artists as Raashed Rahmani and working day and night at his craft to become a top student at the university, so much so that when the Italian PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team - based in Herat) wanted to gift a painting of their top commander for himself as a Christmas present, the PRT contacted Herat University’s Department of Fine Arts to draw the commander’s picture. The University, in turn, placed this diplomatically sensitive task at the capable hands of Akram. The top 2010 graduate of Department of Fine Arts at Herat University Akram works with The Galleria.

The three decade of war has breathe new life and fresh thinking to art. The availability of internet and the new market for art has created a need for re-evaluation of one’s work and the purpose to be better.     Going back to basics and daring to challenge the establishment with his thoughts, ideas, innovations and approaches, Akram has all the right ingredients to be a great artist. He has chosen mud as his medium of choice for several reasons. Historically rich, mud is mentioned in scriptures & literature. Reflecting on today’s Afghanistan where concrete is king, Akram wants to go back to his roots to find the elements that binds us all.

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