With a little jihadi kitsch and some gangsta iconography, Afghan artist ‘runs’ for parliament

 When Amanullah Mojadidi, a US-born, Kabul-based Afghan artist, ran a parliamentary election campaign combining elements of jihadi kitsch with a gangsta style, Afghan authorities were not amused.



When Amanullah Mojadidi, a US-born, Kabul-based Afghan artist, ran a parliamentary election campaign combining elements of jihadi kitsch with a gangsta style, Afghan authorities were not amused…


Florida-born Afghan artist Amanullah Mojadidi has been living in Kabul since 2003. His provocative art work denounces the excesses of the Afghan government, widely though to be one of the most corrupt in the world. 

"I want to expose the hypocritical attitude of certain former jihadists who have become corrupt players in the political life of Afghanistan"


Amanullah Mojadidi is an Afghan-American artist. He lives in Kabul.


I was born in the US but both my parents are Afghan. I was heavily immersed in Afghan culture, my parents took trips back there very regularly, and we followed the war very closely. Growing older, I wanted to know more about my country, and also wanted to see if I could do something to help it, so I decided to move to Kabul. 


I began by working in educational programmes for children. Little by little I got the impression that things were improving too slowly and I became discouraged. I decided to focus on a more artistic job. Today, I work as an artist and I organise workshops and cultural events in Kabul. It’s difficult because Afghans are used to living on a day to day basis. They don’t think about the long-term so it’s not easy to get projects off the ground.


My work has always been heavily influenced by my environment. I am inspired by people’s everyday life in Kabul, taxi drivers being one example. And, obviously, themes such as corruption, suicide bombings, and jihad have all found their way into my work.


In 2010, Amanullah Mojadidi donned a military uniform and installed a checkpoint sign on a Kabul street. From there, he began distributing money to Afghan drivers. The performance was meant to denounce the bribes officers regularly ask from drivers they stop.  ©Amanullah Mojadidi.


"They ‘wear’ the jihad in the same way that a gangster wears a flashy accessory"


The photos of the jihadist gangster are a way of denouncing the attitude of certain important national figures who proudly claim to have done jihad against the Russian invasion [from 1979 to 1989 the Soviet army fought against the Afghan mujahidin (‘holy warriors’). Today, these people hold important posts, most notably in politics. I’m thinking, for example, of the former President Burhanuddin Rabbani or Abdul Rashid Dostum [an army chief who fought against, and then alongside, the mujahidin. Today, he is a member of the most important political coalition in Afghanistan, the United National Front]. These people are extremely rich, corrupt, and often involved in illegal activities [in 2010 Transparency international ranked Afghanistan 176th out of 178 of the world’s most corrupt countries]. This attitude, for me, is very hypocritical. Since I arrived in Afghanistan, I’ve seen these figures as the Afghan equivalent of the bling-bling gangsters you find in the US. They ‘wear’ jihad in he same way that a gangster wears a flashy accessory.


"Phone Negotiationss" ©Amanullah Mojadidi


"After a Long Day's Work" ©Amanullah Mojadidi


There is a difference between the works I do that are destined for a foreign public and the works that are made for Afghans. Some Afghans can appreciate my work on the jihadi gangster but, on the whole, the public perceives it as “tahin”, which is like an insult directed at people who are thought to be great men.


Jihadist gangster campagin posters. ©Amanullah Mojadidi.


"In Kabul, nobody wanted to print my fake campaign posters because they were judged to be blasphemous"


The character that I created is aimed more at a foreign public. But I wanted to introduce him to Afghans. That’s why I created a candidate in the last elections [legislative elections held in September 2010]. So I decided to print campaign posters. All the printers that I knew refused because they thought my posters were blasphemous. In the end I had to call a friend who had an old ink-jet printer. It took us 13 hours to print 33 posters. I posted the few posters I had on strategic locations, in front of the Parliament building and other high-profile areas. They were very quickly taken down.


Two pages from the "Afghan Scene"  article on Amanullah Mojadidi.



My jihadist gangster has been censored in Afghanistan, but an article about my work appeared in ‘Afghan Scene’, a magazine aimed mostly at expats but which is increasingly popular with young people in Kabul. The authorities didn’t appreciate this and they cut the pages showing my photos out of every magazine. I managed to keep a copy.”

A subversive electoral campaign in the streets of Kabul

In September 2010, in the streets of Kabul, Amanullah Mojadidi posted his fake campaign posters. They read: "Vote for me, I did the Jihad and I'm rich".

The Kandahar seat

"The Kandahar seat", another of Amanullah Mojadidi's works.

Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Ségolène Malterre.