Somaiya Behroozian is a young Afghan artist, photographer, author and children’s rights activist.
Q. You were born in Iran andcame to Afghanistan in 2001 after the ouster of the Taliban regime. Was it like homecoming or you found it a different world?
A.It was an absolutely different world to me. The environment and even people sometimes shocked me. To be honest, initially I was down in the dumpsafter seeing the ground realities,the abysmal facilities and infrastructure.
It tookme several months to adapt and adjust in a totally different environment,and even longer to communicate well with people around me. After a while,I discovered my comfort zone and this country became a part of my identity.
Q. You studied Computer Science at Herat University and worked as Lecturer in the same university. How and when did your affair with arts and paintings begin?
A. Painting was one of my profound passions since early childhood. Although I am a computer engineer by profession,I feel like an artist, because that is my claim to fame. I opted for computer science because I believed that a computer engineer will have less financial constraints than an artist.
But I never gave up on my dream. I studied computer science but I devoted as much time to painting. The videos on YouTube and online art courses helped me tremendously. I am a self-taught artist.
My maiden work as an artist was illustrations in a book project called ‘Let’s play together’in 2005 which wasundertaken by War Child Holland in Herat where I was studying that time. It was a great beginningthough I could not produce more work in those years because of the computer studies, which consumed most of my time.
Then I got a scholarship to study at Technical University of Berlin in Germany. I graduated successfully and decided to teach at a university. I worked in several organizations as network administrator and database designer.
I had a good life with good income, but I always felt something was missing.The dreams I had dreamt had to be fulfilled. So I decided to give art the first priority in my life. It is a talent I have been blessed with so I must make most of it. That is how it all started and then there was no looking back.
Q.Your art works majorly focus on women and children in Afghanistan. Do you believe the works of art can effectively communicate the agony and plight of children and women in Afghanistan?
A. I have always believed that art is a tool to make life better and easier for people. It can help people see the positive, better side of life, especially in a war-ravaged place like Afghanistan. The main target of my work has been children.
My works carry the message of equality, peace and the right to learn and live. I believe we must play an active role in shaping the cultural valuesand that is possible only when we focus our attention on children, who are the future of this country. We need to nurture them and encourage them to explore their potential fully and substantially.
Q. You have also written short stories for children which have been distributed free of cost in many primary schools and kindergartens. How did that idea originate?
A.The idea of writing books for childrenstruck me when I became mother. I have a 3 years old son. When I went to buy children books for him, I could not find books in Dari language that would tell the stories about Afghan society, culture and customs.
I wanted my son to understand Afghan culture through stories and learn Afghan proverbs. I grew up in a different culture and when I came to Afghanistan, I found it difficult to converse with people. I did not want my son to face those problems.
I also realized that unfortunately not much attention is paid to children literature and education in Afghanistan. So I decided to write books and distribute them free of cost to children in primary schools. I also published two books of illustrations and paintings for children besides the story books.
Q. In 2003, you start doing graffiti painting on the walls of schools in Herat province to spread the message of love and peace. Do you think it is a powerful medium to espouse the cause of peace?
A. I strongly believe that art can be used as a tool to changeperceptions and in my case I used my art to bring peace. Sometimes, a simple piece of artcan change perceptions about different things. I did that graffiti work as a testament of my love for children andmy resolve to bring peace to my country.
Those graffiti works will serve as a reminder to those students. I choseschools because these are the children who will build the foundations of future and shape the destiny of this country.
Q. You also held an art exhibition in Herat called ‘Give Peace a Chance’. Tell us more about that.
A.The response to that exhibition was tremendous. It was my first art exhibition in Herat and people came in large numbers to support and encourage me. I displayed 52 art works in the exhibition. Most of them were about Afghan women and the suffering they have been through.
Through those paintings, I tried to persuade people to help in ending violence against women and espouse the cause of peace.The message was loud and clear and was meant for everyone.
I also displayed portraits ofseven famous peace messengersincluding Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.I placed a mirror in between to show everyone that they can be peace messengers too. That mirror was important as it showed people the importance of doing what those great men did.
Q. What is your take on the art scene in Afghanistan and the young artists here?
A.There are many young and talented artists in Afghanistan today and they are supportive of each other. Unlike in the political arena, artists help and support each other here. We have freedom of speech in Afghanistan, which is truly a gift and I believe artists do use this right well. The art scene is brimming and it can only get better from here.