A few days before our Polis-Teatime Lights out in Afghanistan: Which options for Afghan artists?, Polis member Claire Saillour met with Shamayel Shalizi (designer, multimedia artist, founder of the platform Blingistan), who is trying to build bridges between the Afghan diaspora and people in Afghanistan with formats such as “Diaspora passing”. She asked her how she is experiencing the changes in her home country Afghanistan and how it affects her personally.
An conversation between Shamayel Shalizi and Claire Saillour
CS: You were already living outside of Afghanistan in the past few years. You lived in Russia, in the U.S., briefly in Germany and now in Uzbekistan. What changed for you in these past few months?
Sh. Sh: I was outside of Afghanistan because my father had just died a gruesome death in Kabul for trying to help his people. I was angry at Afghanistan, and my relationship to my country had gotten deeply fractured. As I started working towards my own healing, I realised there was nowhere else I would rather be than in my home country – actually, the love for my country had gotten even stronger, because of my healing process and overcoming something so difficult related to it -, so I had a flight to move back to Kabul, and then Covid hit, stopping travel.
Nothing has changed for me in the past few months, except for not being able to go home.
CS: What does it mean to you, not being able to go home? You named one of your jewelry “Diasporistan”, how do you relate to that?
Sh. Sh: Not being able to go home is one of the worst pains on earth, because it hits you to your core. It is a big change – it is the worst, most dehumanising, soul crumbling pain there is. The „Diasporistan“ necklaces were targeted at members of my audience. I personally do not have a home outside of Afghanistan, but I know some Afghans who grew up outside of the country, feel strongly about both Afghanistan and their ‘host’ country. So that’s who I designed those for.
CS: What role do you think the Afghan diaspora might/could play for Afghans, in Afghanistan and in exile? You are a designer and an activist: Which role do you think you can and would want to play?
Sh. Sh: There are millions of Afghans in the diaspora, whether they arrived in the past few weeks, few years or few decades. That’s millions of hands that can work on a variety of things to help their country. I try my hardest to make a little dent in changing the toxic and terrible narratives about Afghanistan around the world through my art. Exposing the war machine, maintaining our culture, and celebrating the beauty that is being Afghan are what I try to focus my work on.
CS: Would you mind sharing an example that represents the way you try to change narratives through your work?
[Picture 1: Feedin’ in to stereotypes, 2017]
[Picture 2: Who is more oppressed?]
Sh. Sh.: Both of those pieces I think are golden to answer this question. As a woman, I have felt oppression everywhere, but one thing that was different about being a woman in Afghanistan [before the Taliban took over], was that I was treated as a woman. Not a brown woman. Not a foreign woman. Not a woman with dark skin. Just a woman. Does that make sense?
CS: What worries you the most at the moment?
Sh. Sh: My people who are starving because of the frozen funds. (Editor’s note: Afghanistan’s financial state assets – held in foreign reserves in New York city – are currently frozen by the US Treasury, preventing the Taliban regime from using it.) My people who are being killed for simply holding up our Afghan flag, in acts of resistance. I worry about what the superpowers who control the affairs of Afghanistan have cooked up behind the scenes, and how that will affect my people and my land.
Dear Shamayel Shalizi, thank you for sharing your views.
Join us on 17th November 2021 for our online Polis-Teatime Lights out in Afghanistan: Which options for Afghan artists? with Shamayel Shalizi and Qais Alamdar, student, activist, photographer!
The Polis Blog serves as a platform at the disposal of Polis180’s & OpenTTN’s members. Published comments express solely the authors’ opinions and shall not be confounded with the opinions of the editors or of Polis180.
Image via Shamayel Shalizi
Claire has founded and been coordinating the programme for International Cultural Relations here at Polis180 for about three years. She has worked at Polis180 in many different ways, raising the importance of culture, the arts and artists in the study and analysis of international and transnational relations.