May 072011

Last year I ran graffiti lessons for a week in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was the most unique experience of my professional career.

David Gill is the man behind the extensive (and unpublished as of yet) KAW project, I have been designing the website too. Based in Kabul most of the year, Gilly takes photographs that are seemingly impossible/implausible/impassable for some really big newspapers. In a meeting once, his (i)screensaver kicked in, and I had to politely ask him to just turn it off as it was such a massive distraction. He made the slideshow below…

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Gilly has nerves of steel, and a very strong resume. Together we had been calculating the visit for months, so I had to decode and diffuse the effects the media reports on the location itself, or else I’d be really worried (my family and friends were rightly concerned as it was the week before Christmas, “You either live your life, or you live your life responsibly”). The journey with him from the security enhanced airport for about 5 miles was filled with police checks, the stench of faecal matter and stalls handing out warm milk for a festival.

The mainstream media bombards us at home with images of this war zone, the torn apart people, the crimes and the destruction. This week (or what was left of it) was to be the next story that Gilly would cover. Over 4 full days of planning and execution, 9 artists would take part in a crash course in aerosol painting, its usage, brief cultural references, they had all opted to attend the course run by Combat Comms.

I began work with the group the very next morning of my arrival, and for the next two days concentrated on the purpose and information stream that develops before most large-scale painting concepts. The whole lesson was created in a way to concentrate on painting big works, beyond natural reach, in aerosol. One of the more fascinating reactions from the students was that an IDEA was somehow abstract, like it was somebody else’s. Coupled this with the advanced and rapid adaption of the many handling characteristics of some of THE most crude aerosol paint I have ever used, hold a screening of ‘Style Wars‘ from 25 years ago, and a heavily abridged version of ‘Exit through the Gift Shop‘ from last year, and you get an idea of the cultural anomalies. The most responsive and seriously fun students I have ever worked with.

It was a very emotional visit, one I shall never forget, culminating in a fantastic mural which none of the students had ever painted before. I was taken to some fascinating locations, I was seriously keeping my camera on the downlow most of the time (got a few photographs below), other contributors from the Combat Comms organisation documented my visit, made up almost entirely from very gifted photographers/videographers. There’s a website being made too (

BBC video report

Google News links

Air pollution, revolution, gun control,
Sound of soul
Shootin’ rockets to the moon
Kids growin’ up too soon
Politicians say more taxes will
Solve everything
And the band played on

“Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” written by N. Whitfield & B. Strong May 1970

I have been writing this article since early February this year. There have been many changes in my life since then, this has caused me to write a little about my experience in Kabul, as it was far too magical to keep to myself (much like my 40th birthday, which went by relatively un-noticed). I hope my account helps you see that there are alternatives and that strength can be found in the most unrecognisable places.