Omaid Sharifi and his art collective spent seven years creating over 2,200 murals in Kabul, Afghanistan. The ArtLords collective turned the concrete blast walls into works of art, campaigning for justice, peace and accountability. 

The Taliban have this week begun to erase all the murals, rolling white paint over the artwork that was making peaceful protests against violence, and for women’s rights.

The ArtLord collective have been forced to flee for their safety, after being called extremists and infidels, and receiving death threats. They remain defiant in the face of the Taliban, and Sharifi is reported as declaring “We will never stay silent,” on a telephone interview with AFP from a refugee safehouse.

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“We will make sure the world hears us. We will make sure that the Taliban are shamed every single day.

“The image that comes to my mind is [The Taliban] putting a kaffan over the city,” he said, referring to a white burial shroud used to cover bodies in Islamic burials.

The ArtLord collective’s murals were often strong political statements. Recent works included a mural depicting the Taliban co-founder shaking hands with a US special envoy after signing the deal to remove American forces from Afghanistan. The works honoured Afghan heroes while shamed warlords and seemingly corrupt members of the government.

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The collective kept working on their freedom of expression right until the very last moment they were able to, with Sharifi and five of his collective colleagues working on a mural outside an official government building on the morning of August 15, with the Taliban poised at the gates of Kabul. 

As the city turned to panic, roads became blocked and civilians began to flee, the collective returned to their gallery. Once they arrived, they learned that Kabul had fallen into the Taliban’s power again.

Sharifi helped 54 artists and their families escape Afghanistan, but says over 100 remain behind and are trying to find a way out of the country. He vows to continue campaigning through art.

“The only thing that keeps me going is that I think this is not the end.”

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Given the complexity and gravity of the current situation, it’s easy to feel powerless right now. Here are some of the many organizations working on the ground to help those affected by the crisis: