AFI is pleased to feature the work of Afghan visual artist Jahan Ara Rafi throughout Artistic Exodus. Her five paintings, featured at the close of each of the main chapters of Artistic Exodus, speak to some of the key themes of our research: censorship, suppression, and forced migration

Rafi is an Afghan visual artist and advocate for the rights of Afghan women and girls. She co-founded the Shamama Arts Gallery and the Centre for Women Artists in Kabul, which aim to foster community for Afghan women professionals in arts and culture and to provide training for young women interested in developing their artistic skills. As Rafi described in her interview with AFI, featured in Chapter Four of Artistic Exodus, her artwork and advocacy made her particularly vulnerable to censorship and persecution under Taliban rule. As such, she fled Afghanistan in August 2021, days after the takeover of Kabul. With AFI’s legal and resettlement support under our Afghan Artists Protection Program (AAPP), Rafi resettled in the US in 2022. Since moving to the US, she continues to work as a visual artist and a women and girls’ rights advocate.  

Rafi collaborated with AFI to create the series of five images featured throughout Artistic Exodus. Drawing on the themes of suppression and forced migration, the female figures in her five works are depicted with bent or contorted necks and closed eyes, symbolizing the process of Afghan women sinking into themselves under suppressive structures and in degrading circumstances. A number of the figures have their mouths covered or obscured, a reference to the limitations and “silence” imposed on women throughout history and into the present in Afghanistan. Rafi paints in deep crepuscular shades of red, gold, blues, and purples to evoke the twilight hour following a sunset, a symbol of the shrinking horizons of Afghan women under Taliban rule. Speaking to the toll that the political crisis and subsequent flight have taken on Afghan women, Rafi says that her figures’ expressions demonstrate the range of “cold feelings” that Afghan women experience through forced migration. 

To learn more about Jahan Ara Rafi’s work, please see her website at: 

To learn more about AFI’s Afghan Artists Protection Program (AAPP),  please visit: