Look through the art of Indonesian-based Afghanistan artist Amin Taasha, and it sometimes feels like you’re stepping into an elaborate fairytale.
His art is full of mesmerising images and moodscapes, textured poetically with angels and statues to crows and horses.
Take a few minutes to examine Amin’s works, there are deep undercurrents – be it ancient Greek references or Buddhist thinking – when it comes to his themes and artistic sensibilities.
He enjoys working with symbols and metaphors, using his art to speak out for what he is passionate about: the stories of his homeland.
“I just want to tell my story. A story that many people don’t know. Most know only one side of the story of Afghanistan: war, and destruction and so on. But there are other sides too, like our history, and our traditions. And we must remember these things, they are important, or we will become like a tree without any roots,” says Amin, 25, in an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
Amin was in town to launch his solo exhibit Time-Lapse at Richard Koh Fine Art in Bangsar. It marks his debut show in this country.
Time-Lapse features a range of 20 mixed media, watercolour and sculptural pieces. Also scattered throughout the gallery in this show are black cut-outs of characters and images from his artworks.
Each art form reflects Amin’s growing confidence as an artist who has universal appeal and an international voice. In terms of exhibiting, he has worked consistently for the past 10 years, showing his art in Afghanistan and Indonesia, as well as in Iran, Bangladesh, Lebanon, Indonesia, the United States, Canada, Germany and Italy.
“Amin’s practice draws upon a wealth of traditional Central Asian artistic sensibilities that are steeped in elements of Greek and Buddhist art, merged into a distinctive classical style known as Greco-Buddhist. Amin commonly infuses his pictorial plane with ancient Persian script, Buddhist iconography, and figures referencing 7th-11th-century Afghan miniature paintings, executed within the stylistic range of Chinese calligraphy ink traditions and Zen abstraction,” reads a description from the Time-Lapse exhibition essay.
Amin, born in the Bamyan province in Afghanistan, hails from the beleaguered Hazara community, one of his country’s largest ethnic minorities.
His father, a livestock trader, had to move the family to Kabul to escape being persecuted by the Taliban.
In Kabul, the family started a new life amid much difficulties. Amin, the fourth child in a family of 11 children, began studying art in 2007. He attended the Kabul Fine Arts Institute in 2010, where he majored in painting. He also focused on miniature painting and calligraphy. Two years later, he was invited to participate in a workshop Seeking Study at the National Gallery of Afghanistan, as part of the Documenta 13 international art project in Kabul.
In that art project, two of his works were deemed to contain controversial elements and they were barred from the exhibition. To further intimidate the young artist, Amin was hauled by the authorities (Afghan Ministry of Information and Culture) and subjected to police interrogation. He even had a barrel of a gun pushed to his head.
He was released by the police without charge but faced a subsequent blacklist by the national gallery.
Nevertheless, the artist persisted, and kept going. He was determined to have a career in art, even if it meant he had to leave home.
In 2013, he moved to Central Java, Indonesia after receiving a one-year scholarship to study art at UNNES Semarang. Later, he obtained a four-year scholarship to study art at ISI Jogyakarta. He has remained in Indonesia ever since, making Jogjakarta his base.
In Time-Lapse, the viewer will find much to enjoy. Amin’s art is a combination of many styles and influences, combining ancient Persian script, Buddhist iconography, and figures representing 7th-11th century Afghan miniature paintings. His style of Chinese calligraphy ink paintings and Zen abstractions are also eye-catching.
According to Amin, the exhibition is called Time-Lapse because it paints the past as well as the future of Afghanistan, with motifs from the ancient Kushan Kingdom (20-280 AD) to modern day Afghanistan. Each work, he mentions, is a chapter of a wider story.
Afghan history pervades his ink paintings. One recurring motif is the destruction of statues, perhaps a reference to the Taliban’s attempts to erase the country’s Buddhist past and quash the culture of its Hazara ethnic minority.
His works carry multiple layers of meaning: the pervasive use of black streaks in his paintings, for example, represent the mountain ranges common to Afghanistan, and also tell of the state of hopelessness in his homeland.
“Horses are a symbol of mobility … of refugees who want better lives, but then bombs drop from the sky and machine guns shoot at them from the ground. The crows flying over the horses and carrying the Buddha’s head away, they are my interpretation of the clever people who have education and money but use it to destroy their own culture and history. The more clever they get, the more corrupt they become,” says Amin.
One of his paintings, Remain Happy 2, features an angel with clipped wings. It’s a representation, the artist says, of people who tried to help, but could only go so far. Another painting, XXX, shows a full-moon party, something that used to be celebrated frequently in his country: a throwback to the glories of yesteryear.
According to the artist, he hopes that his works can inspire people to look back on their heritage, and appreciate it.
“What we have in the past, we have to cherish it, we have to remember. History is not wrong or right, it is what happened. If what happened was good, we appreciate it. If it was not good, then we have to learn from it,” says Amin poignantly.