A Taliban survivor makes India his artistic home

Oman Niazai, a 50-year-old artist from Afghanistan who has made India home for almost a year and is willing to stay for few more summers for the love of art

A Taliban survivor makes India his artistic home
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Rana Siddiqui Zaman

In New Delhi’s Artizen’s Art Gallery, while looking at an exhibition, I chanced upon some sparkling bright small works, measuring less than a foot long and wide, and adorned with sunny gold figures against a stark black velvety background. On close scrutiny, I discovered a petite damsel waiting in style, with a deer as company, stripes shaped in tiger approaching majestically like posing for a camera, personalities like poet Mirza Ghalib and Guru Rabindranath Tagore in pensive mood, a whirling dervish, an Afghani saint with Rubab - the near extinct stringed musical instrument, swings and swirls of few birds, a brooding girl and many more. One was wondering on the medium of these exceptionally luminous art pieces as each of these have innumerable shades of brown and gold, complete with fineness of deft fingers, patience and maturity of several seasons.

“This is made with Afghani wheat swat (bali or chaff), so they are so bright. I can’t give more than 10 shades to them. Since there are numerous swats used in them, they look like uncountable shades,” my curiosity is quenched by Oman Niazai, a 50-year-old artist from Afghanistan who has made India home for almost a year and is willing to stay for few more summers for the love of art. Why Oman’s creations are so lyrical and poetic too has interesting reasons. Oman is a poet who has published over six books of poems in Pashto in his home nation. He is Rubab player which is a near extinct stringed musical instrument played rarely in India too. He also used to work in radio as a grade one artiste and jockey.

Oman reveals his interesting method of creating such delicate works of art, “I paste the whole long swats in the figure, and then cut them according to the shape of the work. To give them several identical shades, I use itr. (ethar).” Oman brought loads of swats from his home state and made several works of art in India, few of which are exhibited in Old Delhi’s ethnic art shops. One art work takes 25 to 100 swats and two to five days to make. The Tagore for instance consumed 500 swats. “The chaff from my country is much brighter and silky than I get in India. But I can get identically close ones from Haryana now,” he says.

A Taliban survivor makes India his artistic home

On why Oman made India his home has a reason. “Apart from abstract designs and birds, I also used to make figures which is prohibited in Islam. So, the Taliban started troubling me and my family. They would destroy my art works, terrorise my family. Also, because the radio station I used to work at for 11 years, was a European one called Azadi Radio, which emphasises freedom and liberty, my family was targeted by the Taliban regularly. I decided to leave my country for the safety of my family and art. My brother moved to Canada.

Needless to say, Oman is paying India back in his own artistic ways; by creating stunning luminous national and spiritual icons in swat such as Guru Nanak, Buddha, Krishna, Mahatma Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Mirza Ghalib, apart from recreating figures of Indian folk traditions across the country.

However, Oman’s problems are not solved in India, especially as an art creator. “My works are rare here. Yet, I don’t get good buyers. People not only bargain a lot but also make fake promises to help me but never come back. But, I am happy as I can make what I want here and one day, I am sure, I will be able to reach out to genuine buyers for my creations,” he gleams with hope.

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