Alina - The Afghan Artist Who Painted in Secret

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Alina Gawhary - The Afghan Artist Who Painted in Secret

Alina Gawhary escaped Afghanistan after the Taliban burnt her paintings.    With help from musician/composer Sadie Harrision, Alina got into Banglashesh where she is continuing her studies.

In March 2024 with a special visa Beyond Skin and partners invited Alina to visit Northern Ireland as special guest for International Women's Day acivities and also a visit to London. This blog written by Alina documents her diary experience and some of her back story.  Links also to related features and video interviews. All paintings on this page were painted by Alina.

Arts Council Northern Ireland Feature

Shared Future News Feature

The Nightingales of Afghanistan

If you wish to support Alina helping in the next chapter of her story, please contact us


 I am Alina Gawhary, I was born in 2004 in Kabul province and raised there. I graduated from school on 2021, I started my art journey in kabul when I was 14 years old, it was strange for my family  and our relatives because they are uneducated and do not know anything about art and its value, in the beginning of my journey it was challenging for me to continue as my family were encouraging me to learn math and physic to have a better future in Afghanistan. they have drawn a imagination in my mind a dark place without any future and personality, but the first class was a different experience that I could discover my inner peace and talent, I decided to work on my skills as I was doing embroidery at home to get the money paying for the fee and buy art had a big impact in my life to stand on my feet and fight for my dreams. After one and half year I could learn drawing then I was  teaching in other gallery and could help my family. Day by day more girls were getting interested to learn art and do the same process. I was attending to many exhibition at schools and other places like Denmark embassy. Despite all the challenging and a lot of bomb explosion in the area that I was living and learning, Kabul was the place that I could do my art freely, I was walking on the streets that few minutes earlier the bomb explosion had happening, just to go my gallery and do my art.

On 15th of August 2021 as an Afghan girl I erased, by coming of Taliban to Kabul. My life totally changed from a dreamer girl who could go school and teach art to children, to a girl who trapped in a cage who was thinking that life has returned to zero. I found myself in a stage that everyone was marking the house wife sticker to her face, to stay at home and learn how to be a good wife. It was the good time to not let them to decide for my future. Coming of Taliban stole our dreams, stole the sweetest time of youth, stole our energy, stole our school, and education. It was very tough to see my 5 sisters and a lot of girls staying at home without any future. I decided to make a small school in the corner of my home to teach art and language for girls and street children, it was full of challenging I was afraid of Taliban to close and banned to teach girls. It was the only thing that I could do to fight for education. I could welcomed around 200 children to make a peaceful time without war and Taliban.

My journey in Northern Ireland and London begun when I was invited by Darren from the charity Beyond Skin and their partners to be guest at various International Women’s Day events. An extra special part of my visit would be the first time I would meet Sadie, who got me out of Afghanistan to Bangladesh. My schedule would begin in the capital city Belfast and I would also visit other towns to meet different communities. My home for 7 days would be the IBIS Hotel in Belfast. The staff were so kind, and welcomed me very nicely.

Day 1
I found out that Belfast was a UNESCO city if music, a world of difference from Kabul where the regime do not allow music. As I was seeing people were singing, and dancing on the street, it got my attention to have a peaceful day. My first visit was to Oh Yeah Music Centre where I met Rocky who managed Start Together Recording Studio and he kindly bought one of my paintings. I also met Charlotte the director of Oh Yeah Music Centre. I could never imagine a women could be a director of a music centre.

I then visited Paul and Colin from Northern Ireland National (Ulster) Orchestra for a video interview with Arts Council Northern Ireland. The orchestra were using a beautiful old church as a rehearsal and performance space.

When I was in Afghanistan I had dream to see a group of orchestras during playing, later that evening I was invited to meet Shankill Road Defenders Flutes and Drums Marching Band. A group of students from ArtEZ University visiting from Netherlands also came along. It was great fun and I got a chance to play large drums, and it was an amazing experience that I had fabulous feeling during playing.

Day 2
In the morning I was invited to speak to the girls at Hazelwood College. This was my first presentation of my visit and I was nervous. I think most of the girls were surprised to learn about the challenges of women in Afghanistan. Some of them asked me questions at the end, it somehow looked strange to hear from girls who are banned from education while they have access to that.

In the afternoon I was invited to present at Queens University Belfast. A very big University and the building looked like something out of Harry Potter. My presentation went well with many questions, and I had chance to meet very nice people, who were full of love, kindness.

In the afternoon I was invited by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Mr Ryan Murphy to meet him at Belfast City hall. Fatima from Alghochak (Afghan Association) came also. She is ana amazing young woman and to be the boss of a Afghan organization is something I did not think possible.
The Lord Mayor was very kind, talked very fast, who was seeming patient to be with people as a friend not a politician. He made me feel so special and it was an honour to meet him and show him my paintings of music instruments. This would never happen in Afghanistan and never did I imagine I could meet a Politician VIP who would encourage me as a woman artist.

Day 3
In the morning I travelled to the north coast with Afghan artist Razieh and her sister Farzaneh
It was a very beautiful area by the sea. I  was invited to speak at an event welcoming people seeking safety who had escaped from war and oppression, the event was filled with music, art, and creativity. The event was hosted by Causeway Coast & Glens Council and Northern Trust. We shared food and made some art. I got very emotional speaking telling my stories but felt safe to do so as so many people in the room had similar stories.

After this event I visited a farm and activity centre ran by Janet the manager of CANCan an organization helping young people with extra needs. The farm was in a very beautiful place and we got a tour to see the animals.

The next part of the day got my heart very excited. At the hotel I would meet face to face for the first time. Miss Sadie was the kind woman who replied to my cry for help when I was in Afghanistan and with her help I got out to Bangladesh. This meeting would be very emotional and special moment. Because of this Mr Darren wanted to film the moment. It felt like forever waiting outside the hotel whilst the film crew set up. Then the moment came to walk through the hotel doors and meet Miss Sadie

Not long after Ms Sadie and I meet, we were invited to BBC to be interviewed about our strory.

Day 4
I was invited as a guest to First Steps Women Centre in a large town call Dungannon. It was amazing place for women from many different countries to meet, learn, share, do music and cook food.  The atmosphere was beautiful and I felt so welcome. Miss Sadie came with me also and help with my presentation. I met so many wonderful people and enjoyed very much.

Later that day I with Miss Sadie and Mr Darren attended a very special awards event in a hotel in a place that is called Derry and Londonderry.  The awards was hosted by North West Migrants Form. Everyone was dressed up and we had a banquet of delicious food. I never have attended anything like this before. I heard about people who did good things to help people and they won awards.

Day  5
Official International Women’s Day date is 8th March. On this day I was invited to join a panel of women from Iran, Poland, African decent for a IWD event at All Saints College Belfast as part of a spring festival by an organization Feile.
Stephanie, Behnez, Alekandra and myself gave some background into our history and culture and we answered questions.

Later that day I was invited by Ulster University INCORE department to speak at an IWD event. Brandon from the University asked me and Miss Sadie questions in from of an audience and I showed some of my paintings.

Day 6
Official Belfast City International Women’s Day march and event with thousands of women taking part.
I was one of the guest speakers invited to speak on a stage in front of Belfast City Hall to thousands of people.  I couldn’t believe I was doing this (copy of my speech on this page). The event was managed by Helen at Reclaim the Agenda origination.

This was an amazing finale to my visit in Northern Ireland and I they got the plane to London for more meeting adventures organized by Mr Darren. Miss Sadie came to London also and was with me at all activities

Between seeing all the famous places, Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, Tate Gallery, Big Ben clock, Hard Rock cafe and much more I had special meetings. This included meeting  director from PRS for Music organization, Nikki from Barbican Theatre and Guild Hall School of music (she also bought one of my paintings) and Wendy Chamberlain MP who invited myself and Miss Sadie to Westminster Parliament Buildings. This was amazing and I met other politicians and got a tour of the buildings.


In Northern Ireland I experienced a lot of things for the first time which was full of joy, happiness, excitement. Northern Ireland and its people welcomed me with their kind heart, and beautiful souls. It was the most amazing journey that I had in my life. A city poured with love, kindness, and humanity. Every minute and everyday was effective lesson and enjoyable moments. I could catch that how humanity is nice, how caring for each other is wonderful without considering ethnicity, country, and nationality. Opposite of my country, in Belfast I could see a different world than Afghanistan where women freely go school, university, and have their own life and freedom without judging anyone.
I got a lot of good experiences from nice people from different countries, and learned about different cultures and food. I got amazed to see the kindness of people in Northern Ireland, It had the feeling of home and safety to be together and make the world a better place. A big Thanks to every who made it all happen especially Darren Ferguson (Beyond Skin) and Sadie Harrison who has helped me and other artists and musicians to open the door of hope and make sunshine to the dark sides of the world.