Submitted by Timothy Ham and Dorothy Wilhelm.
It was long after midnight before the paintings were safely packaged and ready to ship, but Afghan artist Abdul couldn’t take even a minute to rest. Months ago, he had stealthily removed over 35 paintings from Afghanistan to place them in hiding in Iran. The governing Taliban had decreed making paintings that represent real life to be a crime, possibly carrying a death sentence. They had already killed other artists this year, just for singing, which they also banned. His gallery and art school had been closed and his path ahead was clear, he had to leave the country of his birth, but first he had to move the paintings from Iran to the US. Shipping the paintings was the easy part, getting his wife and three young children safely out of Afghanistan would be much more difficult.
My Afghan artist friend Abdul (name disguised to protect him and his family) has been trying to leave Afghanistan since the American and NATO forces left in August 2021 and the Taliban took over the country. He only had contact with two people in America, those who had purchased his paintings in 2009.
Having hidden many of his paintings in Iran, he had to make the long journey after crossing the border, now guarded by Taliban forces. Once he arrived, he found the shipping companies were closed for a religious holiday and would not open for a week, due to the Persian New Year holiday of Nowruz.
Friends told him of a major Art and Handicraft Exhibition to be held during the New Year celebrations at the city’s Art and History Museum and asked if he would exhibit some of his paintings there. Taking several of his better known paintings, he won fast approval to exhibit the paintings. These were paintings the Taliban would have destroyed as they depicted art of “living things,” now banned just across the border.
Dorothy’s Note: This story, which sounds like something from today’s headlines is happening today in real life and real time. The family and artist described in today’s story are living hand to mouth in an unfurnished room while they wait and pray for help.
Tim Ham, along with his colleague Carl Highland has made it his full time job to try to get the family to safety – and the pantings really are on the way. Won’t you help?
We continue to contact individual donors, family and friends and Foundations in the Tacoma area. The Go Fund Me account collects money to assist with the visa, travel and resettlement, but more is needed for the school as they had never budgeted for the cost for a 2022-2023 Adjunct Art Instructor position with Elements of Education at the Tacoma School of the Arts. Elements has kindly established an “Abdul Habibi” campaign on their “Donate Now” button on their website to receive donations. More contributions are still needed.
Abdul received recognition and appreciation of his art in Iran, the same art the Taliban would confiscate, destroy, and possibly kill him for painting. There is no US government program to fund his teaching position, it must come from the community. We continue to seek funding for the school so we can bring him and his family to America and have him share his talent and experience.
Go Fund Me, Rescuing an Afghan Artist and Family
Elements of Education
Tacoma School of the Arts
Timothy Ham is a retired business executive who worked for US government in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Jordan during 2001 – 2014.