UNEXPECTED news arrived this week from Canberra artist Kabir Mokamel, who surprised his friends and colleagues in December when he relocated to the land of his birth, Afghanistan, to take a job with a Kabul graphic design firm.
After some months, Mokamel has broken his silence to send us a series of photos showing large billboards, a project demonstrating his positive take on the future of Afghanistan, a future of love not hate.
The huge billboards juxtapose images of war with images of peace. A young boy in a drought-stricken landscape carries buckets of hearts, not water.
A single heart interrupts a line of grenades. A rifle is poised, but a butterfly rests on the end of it. The map of Afghanistan is treated with a Band-Aid – a touch of Mokamel’s characteristic irony there.
“They are having a good effect,” he told me, adding to my surprise, “it is nice working here. I will be staying here for some time.”
For several years before leaving, Mokamel was graphic designer at the ANU, a well-known figure in the arts community, and the designer of the award certificates for the Canberra Critics Circle.
After fleeing Afghanistan in 1990 and spending some time in Germany, Mokamel came to Australia in 1995 and trained in art at the Seaforth Technical College in Sydney, moving in 1997 to the ACT, where he has family, and training as a graphic designer at the University of Canberra.
He has held many exhibitions over the years, when his large paintings, mostly surreal, were also filled with biting commentary on events in Afghanistan, particularly during the Taliban era, though not exclusively so, as in one of his works, “Ground Zero”, he paints what he calls “the fiery tree of hatred” and its silent victims.
Among the more shocking paintings seen in Canberra was his triptych “The Penalty Line”, Mokamel’s comment on the chilling image smuggled out of Afghanistan of the woman executed in front of thousands of spectators at the Kabul Soccer Stadium.