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Qahar Behzad: The Colors of Afghanistan
August 5, 2022 @ 8:00 am - 6:00 pmFree
Opening in Tube Factory artspace’s Guichelaar Gallery is a collection of works by Behzad created between the years 2011-2022 in Afghanistan and the US.
Behzad grew up in Kabul in a family of book publishers, surrounded by centuries-old historical texts and rare books of poetry in his father’s libraries and bookstores. Behzad remembers reading traditional Afghan storybooks his father published that directly influence the art he creates.
Behzad paints about life in Afghanistan, often from observation, depicting places like Kabul’s busy bazaars and Afghanistan’s picturesque mountain ranges. He paints with depth and expressive color, drawing inspiration from one of his favorite Western painters, Claude Monet. Through these influences, Behzad expresses his take on the rich and storied culture of his country.
Behzad’s journey as an artist began in the mid-1990s, when he was six years old. The Taliban had first emerged in his home country, and Behzad’s family found safety in Pakistan. Not able to attend school yet, he spent his days drawing. Here, he completed his first artwork, a drawing of former Afghan king, Mairwais Naika, after studying his portrait in a history book.
His family encouraged him to pursue development as an artist. “I had no real training or instruction in art,” says Behzad. “I just sat down and began to draw. Everyone who looked at my drawings appreciated what my artwork stood for, and pushed me to continue.”
A few years later, his family was able to resume life in their home country, and Behzad began to explore painting in oil and watercolor. After the establishment of US military base Camp Eggers in Kabul, Behzad became the first artist to display and sell artworks there. From 2005-2015, he created daily in his studio on base, producing thousands of drawings, oil paintings, and watercolors. Behzad’s studio became a haven of peace amid an otherwise hectic atmosphere. Soldiers and other military personnel could drop in for tea, to observe Behzad’s creative process, commission a painting, or take a lesson with the artist.
One of the paintings featured in this exhibition, Behzad Bookstore and Afghan Burqas was originally created by Behzad in 2009. In this piece, a group of women dressed in traditional burqas read from shelves of books in his father’s shop in Kabul. The piece celebrates the new freedoms available to women after the first Taliban regime ended, when they could leave their homes, pursue education and learn their rights. In 2021, these freedoms were again taken away. The Taliban is again denying the education and enlightenment of Afghan people, and Behzad Bookstore has closed due to their threats. Behzad recreated this painting in 2022 to highlight this tragic regression, and to remember better times in his country.
Behzad’s works have gained international recognition. Some of these works include portraits of Queen Elizabeth ll commissioned by the British Ambassador to Afghanistan, former US President George W. Bush, for which Behzad received a personal letter of appreciation, and former US President Barack Obama, commissioned by his election campaign staff. The US Navy also commissioned a large canvas mural featuring a fleet of ships stationed in San Diego, California. Behzad has completed many paintings for U.S diplomats and advisors, NATO representatives, and the government of Afghanistan.
A self-taught artist from Kabul, Afghanistan, Abdul Qahar Behzad is now based in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he works as a Legal Assistant for Exodus Refugee Immigration. He earned a degree in Law and Political Science from Rana University in Kabul in 2020.
Behzad was the first artist to display and sell his paintings at Camp Eggers, a US military base in Kabul. From 2005 to 2018, he operated painting studios there, as well as at Camp Phoenix, NKC (New Kabul Compound) Base, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) “Resolute Support” Headquarters, Camp Cobra, and Camp Qula House, where he created artworks for soldiers and military personnel.
When Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Behzad was working as an artist in Kabul. Amidst the chaos and violent takeover, former commanding US officials, many of whom served in the Indiana National Guard, wrote letters of support to bring him to safety in the US. Behzad evacuated to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, where he volunteered as an interpreter for 4 months.
Behzad is committed to helping other refugees like himself. He is working to bring the rest of his family to safety in the US, and advocating for the evacuation of other Afghans who still live under threat of the Taliban every day.