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Rahraw Omarzad’s (born 1964) is interested in art and art mediation seen from different points of view; this he treats in his magazine, founded in the year 2000. He studied art at the University of Kabul (1981-1985), where he then began to work as a teacher. He first experienced publishing as an illustrator and designer for school books in the deaf-and-dumb language for an NGO. After the retreat of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 and following the capture of Kabul by the Mujahedin in 1992, there was heavy fighting between the various camps. Consecutively, Omarzad followed his employer (NGO) in 1993 and moved to Peshawar in Pakistan. There, he also contributed to magazines and took up teaching at an art school.
In September 1996, the Taliban captured Kabul and issued their rigid decrees: the list of forbidden things included music, dance, theatre, film and television, and cameras; photos and images of people and other living creatures, sculptures, magazines, newspapers, most books, weddings and other festivities, ornamental birds, children’s toys, applause, squeaky shoes… Peshawar, situated just behind the border in Pakistan, filled up with more and more refugees including many artists, who were forced to flee their country.
Encouraged by his relevant experience in the publishing world, Omarzad, together with colleagues from his home country, began to conceive the first truly independent art magazine in Afghanistan. Previous to this, there had been a magazine issued by the Art Association, but it was controlled by the pro-Soviet government. However, by far not all Afghan artists in Peshawar were happy about Omarzad’s idea of a new magazine. Some were afraid of reprisals, Pakistan having after all backed the Taliban.
The first issue of "Gahnama-e-Hunar" appeared in the year 2000 in a circulation of 1,200 copies. Rahraw Omarzad financed the printing; friends and colleagues helped with the logistics. The title has a double meaning: art history and something that is not carried out regularly. The first number focused uniquely on painting, sculpture, and calligraphy. Then Omarzad – who has been living in Kabul again since the end of 2002 – responded to the frequent requests from his readers to expand the spectrum of the magazine to film, theatre, music, and other fields. Until the end of 2003, three further issues followed, now supported by international institutions and organizations.
An important recurring topic in "Gahnama-e-Hunar" is education in the arts. Omarzad told us that teaching methods in Afghanistan had basically not changed for the last 30 years. Whereas until now, the teaching focus had always been set on a narrow interpretation of realist painting, the idea for the future is to provide the students with a more open understanding of the arts and to give them the tools to develop individual forms of expression. The magazine publishes discussions on new curricula and other necessary changes at art schools.
There are also reports on the rebirth of cultural life in the country and the repair of war damage; on the reopening of the National Gallery, the search for art treasures missing from the collection of the National Museum, and the restoration of cultural heritage. The magazine also informs on the many activities brought to Afghanistan by other countries or else supported by them, such as exhibitions, theatre and music companies, workshops, symposia, etc.
Omarzad sees a particular responsibility in a reactivation of a collective cultural memory with lost knowledge on the artistic tradition of Afghanistan and other parts of the world. He thereby honors the contribution of Gholam Mohammed Maimanagi (1873 - 1935) as the founder of the first School of Arts at the beginning of the 1920s, just as other outstanding personalities of art history such as – next to Afghans – Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, and Edvard Munch.
For readers in Afghanistan, the magazine is intended to be a window to the world. The issue we have in front of us (see page samples) focuses on the international art fair in Berlin (Art Forum), a symposium on sculpture in China, and most expansively on the film festival of Cannes, where the Afghan film "Osama" received wide attention and appraisal.
For Rahraw Omarzad, "Gahnama-e-Hunar" is one of many initiatives that are investing in a lasting cultural renewal of Afghanistan and he wishes that these efforts receive better recognition on an international level. At the end of our interview, he specifically asked us to publish this following request of his: the coverage on Afghanistan in other countries should be more differentiated; instead of showing only destruction and misery, it should far more communicate positive developments and energies.
Pat Binder & Gerhard Haupt
Publishers of Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art and of Nafas Art Magazine. Based in Berlin, Germany.
Published since 2000 in Dari and Pashtu, with a synopsis in English