Khadim Ali on his Drawing Workshops with Children

4:60 | Published on December 12, 2013 | 255 Views

Artist Khadim Ali discusses a series of drawing workshops that he conducted around themes from the Persian epic Shahnameh (Book of kings) with children from Bamiyan in central Afghanistan and at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum and schools in Fukuoka, Japan. These workshops focused on the book’s hero, Rustam—a symbol of goodness and light—and on the way in which this figure has since been appropriated and repurposed. We also hear how the artist parlayed these sets of activities into an international cultural exchange.

For more information, visit the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative.

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My name is Khadim Ali, and I belong to the minority ethnic group called Hazaras in Afghanistan. And I grew up in Quetta, Pakistan. I studied in Lahore, and I studied in Sydney. And I’m doing art.

The first workshops I did, the series of workshops, was in 2003, when I went to Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan. And these kids were born during the war. The males of the family got killed, or they fled into the mountains, and they grew up with only the females of the family. They were away from any modern communication, or they were away from TV, or cartoons. They didn’t know about anything. So, the series of workshops was trying to make them feel that they are kids, and they are not the sons of wars. They are kids, and they need to play. I started telling them, or reading them stories, and they were coming up with illustrations, coming up with the drawings.

And so, when I was doing these workshops with them, one of the children’s names was Rustam. And I asked him, “Do you know what Rustam means?” and he said, “Well . . . ?”

Rustam is the hero in the book. The book of Shahnameh was written in 1010 AD in the court of Mahmoud of Ghazni, in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. In the 1890s, when the grand massacres of Hazaras started, most of Hazaras, they fled to the countries around Afghanistan. And it was then that my grandparents escaped Afghanistan. And when they left Afghanistan, they had two books with them. One, because they were Muslim, they had Quran. And the other was the Book of kings—one of the major books of the region. My grandfather was a Shahnameh singer, and there were people coming, and sitting next to him, and listening to the stories of Shahnameh. It was when we didn’t have electricity. We didn’t have radio or TV. And so, that was the only source of entertainment.

So, I was telling them who was Rustam. Rustam is a symbol of good, and Rustam is a symbol of light, and the dark side of humanity is symbolized as a demon. So, he’s fighting demons. Afghanistan is a land where the concept of “hero” doesn’t exist at all. Because every ethnic group has their own hero, and one ethnic group’s hero is a demon to the other ethnic group. Telling them those stories of heroes is, again, giving them an idea of becoming a hero.

I proposed this idea to a residency at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Japan, and then I took this idea, I conducted some workshops in Japan, with the kids. And before going to Japan, I took some of the Bamiyan kids’ drawings with me.  I was also showing the photographs of their lifestyles. I was showing their school images. I was showing their house images, and what they’re doing. I was also telling how these kids were born during the war, and what do they think about Afghanistan. So, then the Japanese kids’ drawings were in response to their drawings. Japanese kids were telling them that “We exist. This is our culture. This is what we do.”

And then I took those drawings to the Bamiyan kids, and I exhibited in their school, and I was telling them how the Japanese kids live. And then I showed images of Japanese kids, and I showed some images of Japan to them. In Japanese drawings, there were people playing baseball, football, soccer. So, I took some footballs, or baseballs. I was just distributing them just to exchange their cultures.

The kids are the real reflection of their society. And their drawings were all their stories about their society. And Afghan kids’ drawings were full of massacre scenes, bombing scenes, and the images were all about weapon. But the Japanese kids’ drawings were all about robots, playing football, skyscrapers, and flowers.

My works are very influenced by kids’ drawings. So, it was, like, a collaborative project between Japanese kids, Bamiyan kids, and myself. It was a good experiment. It was a very successful experiment.