Refugee Artists' Creations Turning Heads in Vt. Town

A collaborative project placed temporary murals throughout downtown Brattleboro

NBC Universal, Inc.

A group of refugees from Afghanistan who now live in southern Vermont are making a mark on their new hometown — by putting some of their artistic talents on display for everyone to see.

Throughout downtown Brattleboro — on walls, in alleys, and parking lots — a series of colorful surprises is now awaiting people walking or driving by.

"I'm lucky to be a part of this community, which is very artistic," said Abdullah, a refugee from Afghanistan, where he was part of a group known as the ArtLords.

NECN and NBC10 Boston are not using the last names of Abdullah and two other artists in this report, after they requested we withhold them for security reasons.

In Afghanistan, the ArtLords would use murals to promote peace, Abdullah said, lamenting that when the Taliban swept into power, the ArtLords' works were immediately painted over. The reason they were whitewashed, Abdullah explained, was simply because many of the murals promoted social justice and uplifted women.

Five of the ArtLords have now resettled in southern Vermont, where they can once again share their creativity.

"It was a really beautiful feeling for me," said Meetra, an ArtLord, explaining how she has enjoyed the process of making art in Vermont and seeing people checking out her projects.

Photos: Afghan Refugees' Art Turning Heads in Brattleboro, Vt.

"As an artist, I really feel a freedom of expression," said Zuhra, another artist who NECN and NBC10 interviewed with the assistance of an interpreter. "[I feel] more open than in Afghanistan."

The group collaborated with artists Leah Smith and Michael Townshend for a series of 17 temporary murals inspired by the destroyed work from Afghanistan. The versions sprinkled throughout Brattleboro are made mostly of tape.

"It's been really nice seeing people walk around, trying to find all the murals," said Kirsten Martsi, the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center's manager of education and community engagement.

Martsi said she wants the murals to serve as an introduction to some of Windham County's new neighbors.

"I think art is a great communication tool, and a great platform for people to come together," Martsi added.

While the pop-up exhibit is on view only until Aug. 28, several permanent projects are in development, Martsi noted.

Getting back to doing what they love, the ArtLords said, has been key to healing from traumas they experienced in Afghanistan.

"I'm feeling better day by day, so that's a good thing for me," Abdullah said, adding that he is looking forward to working on more public art projects in the weeks and months ahead.

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