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How art degrees in Afghanistan are disappearing

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Arts degrees in Afghanistan are gradually disappearing from government-run institutions as Taliban-imposed restrictions deter students and scholars from entering higher education. Prior to the fundamentalist group’s takeover in August 2021, Kabul University’s fine arts faculty offered eight degrees and had more than 1,000 students. Today, however, only two degrees are offered, with around 250 students, all of whom are men. The departments of music, sculpture, dramatic literature and photography are abruptly dissolved and the students are transferred to the four remaining departments: cinema, theater, graphics and painting.

At the end of 2022, the government announced restrictions on the university courses that can be taken by men and women. Although women made up over 50% of the art school’s student body, the new rules only allowed them to study painting. The men were not allowed to choose painting and had to choose from one of the other three remaining art degrees. However, by December the Taliban had ordered an indefinite ban on university education for women, and the painting department was left empty. Today, the department has ten male students from one of the previous academic years, the minimum required for the degree to be awarded.

Academic exodus

Restrictions on artists – which include an unofficial ban on music, sculpture and portraiture – have forced many faculty members to leave the country. Not counting the female staff who are no longer authorized to teach, only five of its 60 staff members remain. Although there has been pressure to replace lost expertise, the film department is unstaffed and currently unable to accept students for the upcoming academic year.

The departure of so many talented speakers has had a negative effect

“Mujtaba”, artist

“There is no doubt that the departure of so many talented professors has had a negative effect on the students and on the quality of the degrees offered by the university,” says Mujtaba, an artist familiar with the activities of the university.

Many students have also left the country or abandoned their degrees. “I was supposed to get a degree in painting, but there weren’t enough students left in my college year to continue, so I had to accept either transferring to graphic design or seeing all my years of hard wasted labour,” says Jalaledin, a Kabul man. University student. “I had planned to continue my higher education and do a Master’s degree in painting, maybe abroad, but I don’t know if it will be possible with a degree in graphic design.”

Kabul University’s predicament is mirrored by the government-run Institute of Fine Arts and Industries in the capital, which offers two-year degrees and can be a stepping stone to study art at the university. ‘university. The institute had at least 1,000 students, but today it has around 100. The banning of women was particularly detrimental to its functioning.

“Art is something that can be done at home, so it’s only natural that more women are interested; it allows them to work from home, as a hobby or as a career,” says Mohammad, a staff member, who notes that 450 female students have applied to study there this year.

The institute was also forced to transfer students from its painting department to graphic design due to a lack of demand. “I chose to study painting despite my family’s objections, but now I regret it,” says Naser; he now plans to study medicine at a private university when he graduates to have, what he calls, a more secure future. “I will continue to make art a hobby, but not a profession,” he says. “It’s obvious that there are no jobs for artists in this country right now.”

The government says it supports the arts and has organized many exhibitions, which have included women, but Afghanistan’s bleak economy has not been kind to the art market. Lack of foreign support for the arts is also seen as a factor in its declining popularity.

“If foreign institutes that offered online courses or additional study opportunities could collaborate with universities again, it could make a difference and perhaps raise interest in the arts,” Mujtaba said.

“Unfortunately, foreign institutes, such as GIZ [the German development agency], who supported us, are all gone,” Mohammad said. “It’s a very difficult time; as things stand, I fear the institute will be forced to close.

• Names and some details have been withheld

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