The roots of one's identity are dug deep into the soil of the land that one calls home. The land that an individual is born in, where they make their first contact with the earth and find themselves surrounded by people that they call family, sows the first seeds of their character. The need to live peacefully in your country and harbour a feeling of belonging should not become a quest for any individual. Specifically, the intensity of being born in a country heavily saturated in war can be felt most by those who live in constant fear of loss. The need to call a place home only intensifies when that right is brutally taken away.
Born in the remote village of Daikundi in Afghanistan, Ali Rahimi lost his father at the tender age of five in the civil war. Two years later Rahimi along with his siblings were forced to leave Afghanistan and his mother and settle in Iran as immigrants. Rahimi found himself longing to reunite with his mother, “I would stare at the farthest place I could see and say to myself that my mother is there. Always the red colour of the sunset on the horizon of the mountains, the mountains which made a distance between me and my mother one after another, reminds me of those days, the days when the separation was formed,” said Rahimi in an interview with Arts Help.
Separation is a feeling that Rahimi visualizes in his paintings and certainly, the fear of parting with your loved ones is something that many immigrants suffer from. In his painting My Brother Rahimi explores the day he was parting from his brother again when he embarked on the journey to leave Iran illegally to pursue future prospects. The anxiety that came with this partition devoured his thoughts. The dark hue of the painting is not only a depiction of that fateful night but also the dark thoughts and the feeling of hopelessness that came with it.
The artist strives to understand and visualize the experiences of an immigrant in his paintings. Many of his paintings, although left untitled, speak volumes to the spectators who momentarily delve into the lives of those who have been displaced from home. He successfully translates the significance of belonging in his work and the importance of making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable aligning with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Sustainable Cities and Communities.
Another significant painting by Rahimi titled Kabul Airport, depicts the chaotic scene of desperation that drives many immigrants and refugees to flee war-studded countries in hopes of mere survival. At first glance, the crimson hues of the painting are extremely intimidating and only a mere outline of an aircraft can be observed. At closer observation one realizes there are minuscule figures that surround the plane and their placement eerily resembles a pool of blood. The story in Rahimi’s painting unfolds and tells the tale of distressed beings waiting their turn to escape their homeland because of the war.
Open spaces are a common theme in Rahimi’s paintings where his subjects take the centre stage but are found surrounded by nothing but darkness and an endless void. “The big black space in my paintings can represent the space of migration. A black space with nothing in it is a void. It is a place where hopes are very, very faint," shared with Arts Help.
"My life as an immigrant is this big black space. I can't even express this feeling. There is no certainty in it. Whatever I think, I can't find the right words to describe this big black space,” he shared with Arts Help.
Rahimi translates the pain that survivors feel into his artwork and spreads awareness of the unimaginable trauma that so many immigrants and refugees go through due to disposition. He also has gained a lot of recognition for painting screaming faces that depict the internal struggle and anguish of his people. The series of paintings is part of an exhibition called Before Silence and Rahimi along with other Afghani artists contributes to the representation of humanitarian crises that come with displacement.
“These paintings are not just paintings. Because they tell a story, a story of war, migration, protest and resistance. Sad faces and direct looks at the spectators, pain and joy in them, in which suffering has always been more and this is the truth of life…And I say this truth in my paintings. It is clear what geography my subjects belong to and what it narrates. I try to penetrate the faces of my subjects and narrate what they felt. As an immigrant, I have these feelings inside me and I try to share them with others,” Rahimi expressed.
Although Rahimi now lives in Iran, he and his family are far from being free. They are still consumed with efforts to find their space in the world and to lead a meaningful life. To achieve that, Rahimi has to first travel to Afghanistan illegally and get his passport made, only then will he be able to travel the world.
“Being an Afghan in Iran alone is a big crime. That I can't have any other job except hard work and low-level jobs. Life in Iran was and still is very cruel to us. That talking about the experience of living in Iran needs a better time,” shared Rahimi with Arts Help.