Standing Flames, 2019

Khadim Ali in collaboration with Bamyan Art Space
Standing Flames, 2019
From ‘Flowers of Evil’
Acrylic, industrial paints, Dutch metal gold leaf on MDF, 1785 x 539 cm
Installation view: Sharjah Biennial 14: ‘Leaving the Echo Chamber’
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation
Courtesy of the artist


As one of the persecuted Hazara people of Afghanistan, Khadim Ali explores the symbols, characters, language and image-making defined and redefined across the history of his culture of origin. His SB14 project, Flowers of Evil (2019), features a mural and installation at Emirates Fine Arts Society that address weapons and their symbolic social weight. A presentation at Sharjah Art Museum examines the normalisation of violence in Afghanistan today through education, propaganda, protest and material culture.

The work contemplates the exploitation of faith and charity as social agent and political influence. In the twentieth century, religious texts such as the Shahnameh—authored in Mahmoud Ghaznavi’s court (971–1030) to motivate his warriors—have been used to legitimise acts of violence. For example, the Taliban claim Shahnameh hero Rustam as their own, calling themselves the ‘Rustam of Islam’. Western aid agencies open schools that teach political violence as revolutionary acts, while Afghans displaced by the Soviet Union and later the United States produce tapestries picturing war in scenes of daily life.

Ali also questions whether the normalisation of violence can be supported or challenged by aesthetic examination. His work considers the use of flags as cultural representations of aid, the monumentalisation of the bomb as a symbol of martyrdom, the prevalence of propaganda songs and the role of archives that visualise recurring political histories. Throughout his project, the artist contemplates his responsibility to examine the relationship between past and present, the transference of history and the power bound up in its interpretation.

This work was co-facilitated by Bamyan Art Centre and reflects craftsmanship from Isfahan, Bamiyan, Kabul and Yogyakarta. Ali thanks Ali Baba Aurang, Atika Hussain, Aziz Hazara, Golsom Haidary, Mohammad Hadi Rahnaward, Razia Haidary, Sher Ali Hussainy, Art Meredeka Yogyakarta, Jafarian Crafts Isfahan, Milani Gallery and A3 Art Agency.

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Flowers of Evil (2019)

Ali, Khadim

Rich in historical references as well as traditional and modern motifs from both Eastern and Western art, Khadim Ali’s drawings and paintings tell stories about the loss of his own cultural heritage in Bamiyan, Afghanistan.