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Yar Taraky - Afghan Artist

Could you tell me a little bit about your background?

Well, I lived in Afghanistan for 20 years. And then I went abroad for studies...

And then I came back, and then the war started and I had to move again take my family at that point, and struggling with migration and eh... from one country to another and then finally I settled, about 10 years ago in Canada.

When you were in Afghanistan were you working in art?

Well, yeah I've been doing art my entire life, all this time I remember myself. In 1988 I secured an architectural engineering degree and started working in Afghanistan but at the same time, I continued my work in the art business and in 1994 I received my masters in Art and Art History. That was a good inspiration for me and then life led me to do more art. At one point I had to merge art with means of development and I used art for community development and created new answers and came up with new ideas, proposals, created a philosophy of using art not only for decorative means but for community development.

You are most well-known for your paintings. Are you involved in other forms of art?

Well absolutely, I'm teaching at St. Clair College in Canada. At the same time I'm the director of the Immigrant Council and in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and eh... our organization has eh... has a very active board of directors, it's a charitable organization, and we have mentored about 100 immigrant art professionals. By art professionals I mean not only other artists, but artists, musicians, writers, poets, even a few journalists. We mentor them in their way of integration into their new life, and that's one of the biggest communicative development projects they could have.

Besides that we have umm, we've created an enterprise of outdoor markets for artists. We have mentored youths, that was another big project that we did, is how to mentor youths, how to empower youth to art. Basically we focus their attention to the career that they were choosing, to education, to their city and respect for various cultures, and we used art media to do that. We didn't talk, we didn't lecture them, we made them participate in art projects, we challenged them, we put them in difficult situations, and the youth liked challenges. That's another project. Another project which I did myself was the empowerment of the indigenous woman in Mexico. We went there and the villages where woman lived in very difficult situations and a very difficult environment; lack of drinking water, problems with alcoholism, with their main partners, with husbands and parents, problems with education, empowerment problems . We used the art medium; this project was actually designed by the Working Together for Income Development Organization, it's a Canadian Agency. We have used art not only for decorative purposes but also for community development, for empowerment.

Your works at the Afghan Embassy in Tokyo all show aspects of Afghanistan. Is it characteristic of your art to include Afghan themes? What other themes do you deal with?

Well, this project was actually, this is an initiative of Ambassador Haron Amin who gave me a call and he found my art and he was inspired by the positive message that this art sends out. Actually I did it purposely to ...in the midst of negativities and war and drought, financial and community problems in Afghanistan I decided to convey a more positive message and in the past years I've been painting lots of positive scenes of Afghanistan so that's what catches their eyes and commission for doing this was and I'm glad that I was able to produce a positive scene of Afghanistan, but besides that I do work on multiculturalism, about the uniqueness of music, dances and art among people of different cultures and countries so in my art there are no borders. In myself, my paintings, you can see easily an Afghan with an aboriginal person of another country playing together dancing or using their art.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Not only artists, but all people, but artists in particular live with inspiration, they always have their dreams with them, whether they are in the workplace or off work or at home, the only time probably is when they are sleeping, maybe they're dreaming about inspiration, so the inspirations are always there. The difficult task is to draw the inspiration to symbols and compositions onto a 2d piece of paper or a canvas. That is the process that an artist should take a challenge on and that's what I have my own style and system of how to do that and all of us think about ideas and ideals and I imagine them, I create them, I very actively draw them and I use my system how to materialize that inspiration and imagination into a piece of art.

How often do you get back to Afghanistan?

Once a year I go to Afghanistan, more or less.

Afghanistan has a long history of art. Do you see modern Afghans embracing the traditional arts or do you see them gravitating towards more modern or more foreign-influenced styles of art?

Well, I would like to say that Afghanistan is still struggling into the more traditional style of art and unfortunately there hasn't been done a lot to inspire and support art programs and art institutions and artists individually. Unfortunately where I'm sitting I'm fortunate, there are tremendous amounts of possibilities and power in today's Afghanistan to use art to convey the message of peace, the message of development, the message of reconstruction and unfortunately this medium has not been used, so maybe that's why people, some people, are not getting their message. This part of their life, this part of our culture, has not been utilized properly. The modern art has not, there are some small institutions in Afghanistan, some non-governmental organizations for art who are conveying the message of modern art, I have visited them in 2007, but the level of their influence is so low that they cannot be considered as a mean of contemporary art. I have been using some of the elements of contemporary and divisionostic art in my artistic pieces and there are a few, a handful of artists who do that in Afghanistan. In general there are a few challenges in the way using art for community development, for decorative means and this area to be seen to be developed

What was the impact of the Taliban, and the Soviet era before that, upon artists in Afghanistan and yourself personally?

The ban on art did not come only with the Taliban. In 1992 the artists lost their hands, their art, because of the civil war in Afghanistan and then eventually either banning or disregarding the art. It started from 1982. Since then the artists have been living in Pakistan in exile and other countries. Many artists left Kabul actually exactly by the end of 1982 including myself. Many of my friends artists who were making their living through art have left the country and when the Taliban came they gave another hit, the final hit, the final hammer to the art and to the cultural industries and the art has suffered significant losses since then. Maybe the life of artists and art mediums, and the art industry in Afghanistan, in today's Afghanistan is a result of that, their careless approach towards art. I have listened to Ustal Behsed's interviews - Behsed is one of the greatest teachers, figures in Afghanistan and he, I was very positively surprised about this his realistic approach. There was a time when Afghanistan has enjoyed the prosperity of art, in the 1970s, in early 1970s, under President Daoud there was attention to art, artists have some respect and they were making some living but probably the most prosperous time for artists was in the late, late, late 80s. Just before the Mujahadeen came. Somehow artists have been enjoying the respect from the government, and they've received funding. There were many artists who would agree with me that at that time the art industry was supported. And actually that government view was for their purposes too, for vaccination, for conveying the message of peace, conveying the message of what was the government. But what I would like to say is there have been some good attempts made in recent years. I have been traveling to Kabul each year, to Herat, I was in Herat, I spoke last year with the Herat University final students and professor and teachers, to Kabul university students and teachers. I see there is a big potential growing and my next goal is to knock on the doors of politicians and figures of influence to use art for conveying the message of peace, the message of reconstruction, the message of friendship and between different ethnic groups, between different regional groups in Afghanistan. I believe that maybe in the matter of the next 2 to 3 years there'll be a very good change in the art scene.

Our website has featured articles on recent art shows, which seem to be more common these days. Perhaps your prophecy is already beginning to come true.

In 2005 we had initiated, along with a number of Afghan professionals, Afghanistan's Artists and Graphic Design Association. I remember the UNESCO director in Afghanistan, who is a Japanese national, I think it's a coincidence, and then Mr. Nagaoka, who is the UNESCO director in Kabul, I invited him to join us and he came to Kabul University and he participated in the operation of Afghanistan's Artists and Graphic Design Association. In Herat, there is a regional art centre; there is a pretty, dedicated young lady who's running this centre, when I say that there are some good chances for prosperity because I saw the grounds for that I saw a number of very dedicated and talented people who want to push this and I would like to support them in that process.

What do you see as your role in helping Afghanistan to reclaim some prominence in art?

First of all I would like to emphasize on every artists' influence, every artist has an influence to me. I would like to, so far I've been mentoring a couple of institutions, I've been providing some art materials to a couple of organizations in Kabul. I would like to initiate an award in Kabul and Herat and the west cities, an annual award for excellence, for the best student, that's my next goal. I would like to generate funds for that and put some of the funds myself, so each student will get their first award one year, that's my next goal, and I also am talking with the Canadian Council for the Arts. I've a goal to invite one artist per year to exhibit or just travel to Canada and then possibly to other countries to see the art industry developing and different ways to conduct art. One of the problems currently in Afghanistan is that the artists do not realize that the art business has changed a little bit. We cannot conduct business as usual anymore, we have to create new ideas, new concepts, new mediums, and we have to fuse art media, we have to fuse visual art with music, with theatre and that's something they don't have that experience. This modern life we have to create new modern ways of using art. I would like to continue mentoring as I've done in the last 5 years. I've been in contact with UNESCO and the Kabul National Museum, National Kabul Art Gallery; I've been supporting the National Kabul Art Gallery for the last 5 years. Basically part of my life will be dedicated to promoting the art industry in Afghanistan, but no matter what I do in the future; part of my life will be dedicated to that.

I understand that art runs in your family and your son is involved in animation?

Well Abdullah Taraky, he started art with myself, but he also used the experience of other teachers with the Immigrant Cultural and Art Association. Now he is a very, very good technical drawer right now and he decided to go to Sheraton College, and he decided to go on to that place or not to go to university at all. He has been a student at Sheraton College, the program is animation, and he is working on his own concepts for the future programming that he will have. I am hoping, one of the goals that I have, I would like to convince Abdullah to, once he gets the full experience and education, I would like to convince him to take some of the Afghan stories and concepts and stories and animate them, hopefully he will push it to the entertainment industry, to different studios, maybe Hollywood, maybe Disney or some other studio who'd like to create and find innovative ideas so that's my message for Abdullah. I'm helping him; he helps me so there is a kind of positive relationship started and I'm hoping that that will continue. I just want him to give his share to Afghanistan's redevelopment.

I think it is wonderful that your family continues to show art and Afghan culture through the generations.

We will see and I'm hoping that his contribution will be significant as he is a very good, very promising artist. An artist that has the industrial capacity to be on the world stage. He will be, from what I see, the way he works, the way he conducts business, the way he handles himself, I think he will be going far rapidly. All I want to make sure is that he takes a little bit of his time and talent and abilities to contribute to Afghanistan.