Art & Culture

Herat’s performing artists turn to manual labor to survive

A theatre show in the city of Herat in August 2022.

A group of performing artists from Herat province in the west of Afghanistan say Taliban restrictions have forced many of them to give up their dreams and turn to manual labor in order to survive – either in the country or abroad.

One artist, who wished to remain anonymous due to security threats against him, said almost all performances at the Herat theater have been stopped since August 2021, after the Taliban came to power.

Herat theater, one of the few venues for performing artists in the country, once had at least 60 artists, but now, 51 have quit and many have left the country.

“The Taliban held a theater performance four months back in a symbolic move. As a result, theater artists were identified and were suppressed [by the Taliban],” he added.

A group of artists from Herat.

Roqia Hassanzada, an Afghan artist who has played in at least 10 TV series and movies, said she moved to Iran after facing restrictions by the Taliban.

“I was the breadwinner for my family. I lost my job under Taliban rule. I had no option but to leave [and go] to Iran where I am working as a cleaner in a hotel to meet the needs of my family,” said Hassanzada.

Kamran Kawish, another artist from Afghan cinema, said he worked at the Herat theater for over a decade, played in three movies, 10 short films and three TV series.

He said he is now a manual laborer in Iran.

Mohammad Yaqub Shah Amini, another artist, who has been engaged in Afghan cinema for the past four decades, said artistic activities have significantly reduced, and that he has turned to working with a YouTube channel.

“You work for 43 years in the cinema, and ultimately, this is the result,” he added.

Suhail, 18, also a performing artist, said he started playing roles in movies when he was 10 years old. He has played in 15 short films and appeared in 40 stage performances.

“I had to leave for Pakistan. I was there for six months and worked in a hotel. Then I went to Iran. Now, I am in Herat and I have turned to manual labor to pay my costs,” said Suhail.

This year is the 100-year anniversary of theater in Herat.

First established in the solar year 1301 (1922) by Alama Salahuddin Saljuqi, head of the education directorate in Herat at the time, and his deputy Abdul Wahid Bahra, they performed their first show for university students and professors in the same year. The theme was the new curriculum for schools.

The last performance of Herat’s performing artists was in August this year, to mark the 100-year anniversary of theater in the province.