“When no one listens to you, you are forced to change your language. Art is my language. It gave me the voice that I was denied. Though it is silent, I feel it is very powerful.” Farahnaz Salehi
I met a young Hazara artist on a rainy night.
It was 12 o’clock midnight, outside was pitch black and I was sitting at the back of a rented car. From time to time, Khadim, who was sitting at the front, turned around and gave me information about the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre or asked me questions.
I put my head against the window; looking outside, my heart was pounding as the car wheels continued to move on the road. Both my racing heart and the wheels stopped.
Looking out the window, I could see a young boy walking towards me with an umbrella. The rain was pouring down; I was holding my heavy handbag close against my chest. Confused, tired and excited all at the same time I stepped out of the car. Drops of rain fell on my face… finally I was awakened and I realised that I was in Indonesia.
My melancholic memories of Kabul and the golden experience that I have had here in Indonesia makes me think – and think deeply about how we have deprived ourselves of life with formalities. We abide by codes of conduct that emphasize class rather than the beauty of existence.
Be rebellious sometimes and defy such stifling suppression. Let yourself not lose your true nature behind the hollow representation of class. Stand on the street and buy rice inside a paper ball and eat as you get drenched under the rain. Do not deprive your tongue of the taste of food. Let your soul become imbued with the ecstasy of life and let your heart pour forth in tears and your cheeks lift in happiness for the suffering and joy of another person. This is living.
In the first night of my stay in Indonesia, I felt at home. My heart was touched with the family’s hospitality and genuine affection. Standing, they all made a way for me to sit in the most comfortable corner of the house, all pointing and looking at one spot. I sat next to a green wall; behind me was a big painting of scattered birds and a girl with wild hair holding her face.
As an art fan I couldn’t help but to keep turning my head around and look at the strength of emotion conveyed in the painting behind me. After taking a sip of tea, I acknowledged, “this is amazing.” The mother said proudly, “It is my Farahnaz’s work.”
For me the scattered flock of birds depict the inner reflection of the girl’s understanding of herself as a free person. Farahnaz agreed and said, “It shows the vastness of her thirst for freedom and self-expression.” Facing each other we continued to look at the wall. The girl’s dancing hair is stretched towards the birds, further emphasising her will to be free.
But as I moved my eyes from the birds to the girl, I discovered paradoxical emotions. The wildness of the girl’s hair is inconsistent with her timid body language. Her head is slightly bent and she is holding her face with her two hands, crying in the face of the reality of being “the second sex.” Her inner, free-spirited self is shackled by the chains of good and evil – reality.
Unhealed wounds and brokenness are present in every corner of Indonesia. Every family that I meet talks about how uncertainty of life here can break a person from the inside.
I have noticed that all of the parents try to hide their pain from their children. They do their best to make sure that their children are feeling at home.
Farahnaz describes art as her strength. She said it was art that healed her pain, and revived her faith in life. Holding my hand, she continued, “when you are pushed into darkness you are forced to venture out in search of a beam of hope.”
Broken identities must be mended if we are to live. As Farahnaz says, “they break you, you mend yourself, they break you, and you mend yourself. You have to, or else that is the end for you.”
With pain simmering in her throat, she says, “sometimes I ask myself, why should I get emotional? I don’t want to think about others, but then tragic incidents take place where you cannot help but to cry. For example, when the throat of a nine-year-old child is cut open, tears start dripping no matter how cold your heart is. I wish my people lived in an environment where they did not face any challenges. I wish my throat was cut instead of a nine-year-old’s. I wish I could place a stone in my heart to not feel pain. I wish when I sleep, I can sleep with the thought that there is no Taliban.”
Farahnaz fled Afghanistan with her family in 2013. Her memory of Afghanistan is bittersweet. Bitter because like every other child, she feels that her country has drowned her childhood under bloodshed, but sweet because she has many good memories of Kabul. She says, “I had a lot of friends there. It was different. Our friendship was special. I have a lot of grievances towards my country; despite that, it is my own home, my own country.”
In Indonesia refugees live in a state of limbo. They do not know whether they will return home or find a new one. It is uncertain. As stateless people they pursue hope for a bright future through their pain and struggle. Survival has become their identity. Farahnaz says, “we must envisage an idea of a future to work towards, otherwise there is no reason to get up every morning.” The tone of her voice changes, she says with a magnificent strength, “but you somehow have to pull yourself out of that darkness if you are to survive.”
In the first year of her stay in Indonesia, Farahnaz faced a lot of difficulties. She says, “I was crying for two months. I missed everything that was familiar to me. There was no school. Time went by very slowly. I hate that year.”
“The difficulties and uncertainty taught me how to appreciate the changes that came into my life, especially the development that occurred in my life this year.”
Art became her saviour, giving her a voice to express her anger, sadness and happiness. She says, “When no one listens to you, you are forced to change your language. Art is my language. It gave me the voice that I was denied. Though it is silent, I feel like it is very powerful.”
Farahnaz is a complete person of her own. She says, “I don’t want a man behind me to be recognized as a person. I want to be known as Farahnaz and as an artist.”
We were sitting on the upper floor of CRLC with the curtains half open. We had our backs against the cold wall and our legs were stretched in front of us. She said, “Kobra, at the beginning no one believed in me and my art but myself. It was only later that others started encouraging me. My parents too started to believe in me and the strength of my art.”
Text by Kobra Morani