Farzana Marie (FM): Many of your works of art depict images of war and violence juxtaposed with, or altered in surprising ways to convey, instead, a vision for peace. Your tagline, “Imagination is my power,” directly implies a displacement of violent force with art. Can you talk about how this approach emerged for you, beginning with your very first piece (depicted below)? What part does the presence of the violent symbol (the gun, tank, or bomb, for instance) play in achieving the effect?
Azim Fakhri (AF): Well, before beginning to make art, I was always thinking about doing something about the violence, war, and what was hurting me, so I said, I should convert this pain into something positive and good. My first piece of art was an AK47 broken in two parts, with flowers coming out and butterflies flying around it. The AK47 is black and the flowers and butterflies are colorful. The broken gun is harsh, but I softened it with flowers.
FM: You call your art movement “Kabul Knights.” Can you talk about that name and what it means to you?
AF: I always wanted to be a Knight Rider, who fights for peace and his country. I chose this name because my vision is to create a team of volunteers, in different areas, who works for free, not for money but for freedom. I am still only one, but I keep working, keep raising my voice for those who are voiceless, keep working harder to make bigger changes in my community and generation.
FM: You’ve created multiple works of “public art” or graffiti in locations around Kabul. How do you see the potential impact that such projects can have on the general public? How about the role of social media in reaching the younger generations in Afghanistan with your artistic vision?
AF: Yes, and I’m so glad that Graffiti is allowed in Kabul, I mean there is no rule against it. I had no graffiti experience, but I tried and I did it, and I believed that as a public exhibition, people who wouldn’t normally have access to art, like a shopkeeper or a mechanic or a laborer, can see it on the walls.
Social Media is growing so fast in our country, now you can see our young generation all over social media such as Facebook, Twitter and so on, I never hide my artwork, I have my social media pages, I share my artwork with people who are there and I want to see their feedback and comments.
FM: Many of your creations involve women, such as the one below featured by the Kabul Art Project. What kind of response have you received from women in Afghanistan about these works?
AF: It is good to mention that my first exhibition was on the 8th of March (International Women’s Day) 2012, so I started my artistic career with women’s day. I love what I do and I most of my work revolves around three major subject areas: violence against women, street kids, and art against Taliban. Most of my art is for women, because they are a part of my daily life, our community and country. They play a vital role in our daily life and I think we all should see women in a different, healthier way. Afghan women have suffered a lot of pain, they still do, and they deserve a better life.
FM: Some of your designs feature the Taliban, often transformed from carrying instruments of war to carrying musical instruments. I imagine these might be some of your more controversial images. What kind of response have you received?
AF: Yes, because the Taliban were and are against music, movies, theaters, and all that. That is why I merge these two things together. My message is that you can hurt people with a gun but can make people love you playing an instrument. I get different feedback with such kind of arts, both positive and negative and I accept both, because the negative feedback makes me learn and makes me stronger.
FM: In your TEDx Berlin talk, you mention your childhood experiences of having to leave Afghanistan and growing up in Iran, working from a very young age and missing much of your schooling. We can observe in your art the importance that you give not only art and music, but education to disrupt the destructive forces violence and ignorance. Here, for instance, we see the transformation of bullets into pens and pencils (an image which also provided the inspiration for the cover design of a forthcoming anthology of Afghan women’s poetry in translation!) How do you see the relationship between education, art, and peace?
AF: Yes, I became a man while I was still a child, a man who was responsible for his family—I’m proud that I could do something for family and I still do. If you sit somewhere high like a mountain, and see carefully, you’ll see there are lots of borders between humans, we cannot trust, we cannot love, we cannot give, we cannot accept peace, we cannot be calm, we cannot stop being ignorant. I believe education can remove all those borders which other generations made between us; education can make our life easier and our path lighter; education can make us believe that Peace is priceless and can change everything for the next generation. When we are all educated we can see everything more clearly. There are still people who don’t like art in my country, but there are more people who want to be artists.
I believe education is the key to everything, even our religion is saying that we have to get educated and teach others to be educated.
FM: Afghanistan is entering a new season after the formal end of NATO and U.S. combat operations, coinciding with continued extremist violence and rising casualties sustained by the Afghan National Security Forces as they fight those elements. There is tension and frustration, too, about the delays by the Ghani/Abdullah government in appointing a new cabinet. What does the coming year look like, do you think, for artistic production in Afghanistan and its interaction with the political space?
AF: I always see life in a positive way, I believe that 2015 will be a great year for our people, as so many people were negative on our TVs about 2014, nothing happened, we voted, we have a new president, I’m sure good things will come. I make art no matter the time or the conditions, so I’ll have new artwork and will try to be a positive change for my people.