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Story | Community
18 September 2021

Afghan refugee’s artwork finally sees light of day in Qatar

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QF volunteers help Leila Mohammadi realize her dream of exhibiting her art pieces

Laila Mohamaddi, a shy 28-year-old who lets her ever-present smile talk on her behalf, was discovered to be an exceptional artist during an arts and crafts session held by Qatar Foundation (QF) volunteers at one of the compounds housing Afghani refugees.

Her talent is so extraordinary that QF volunteers decided to organize a small exhibition of her art at the compound she resides in – open to compound residents only, and representing the first time in her life that the art she loves to create has gone on display.

Not a day went by when I didn’t paint. Painting helped me find solace in otherwise difficult conditions. It helped me forget

Laila Mohamaddi
Laila Mohamaddi

Born in Afghanistan, Mohamaddi started painting when she was 14, and has continued to paint every single day since. “Not a day went by when I didn’t paint. Painting helped me find solace in otherwise difficult conditions. It helped me forget.

“Many a times I have heard explosions go off while painting; those days I would immerse myself even more deeply in painting just so I didn’t have time to watch the news or check my social media. It was an escape for me and it worked.”

During the arts and crafts session, it wasn’t just her sheer talent that caught everyone’s attention, but also the speed at which she painted. It was quickly evident that she was a honed artist. As she was peppered with compliments while she painted, she kept her head down, smiled and continued painting.

When asked if she used to sell her paintings back home, she laughed and said: “In Afghanistan, people don’t understand or appreciate art, and the few that do can’t afford it. For most people, life there is such that there is no room for art in it. All my paintings stay in my house.”

Every time I would finish a big painting, the mood in my house would that be of joy and celebration. For a few moments, we would all forget about what’s happening in the streets

Laila Mohamaddi

Speaking about the role that art has played in her life, she said: “My love for art and my paintings has been a major source of happiness for me and my family. My family’s support for my art is what has kept me going until now. Every time I would finish a big painting, the mood in my house would be that of joy and celebration. For a few moments, we would all forget about what’s happening in the streets.”

Mohammadi recalls the distress she felt when she left Afghanistan. On the flight to Qatar, she remembers telling her husband that she didn’t know which refugee camp she would be sent to, what it would be like, and if she would be able to sleep comfortably. The image she had in mind was from what she had seen on TV – hundreds of people packed into tents.

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“Imagine my astonishment when we got here, and somebody welcomed us to these villas saying ‘welcome to your home’,” she said. “I can’t express in words the gratitude I have for Qatar and its government for taking care of us in a way that we had never even imagined. Never in my life, not even in my own house, did I ever live so comfortably. And I definitely didn’t expect the most comfortable days of my life would be as a refugee.”

Mohammadi is scheduled to leave Qatar for Macedonia in the next few days, and says: “If Macedonia is half of what Qatar and its people are, I will be happy.

I want to thank Qatar Foundation’s volunteers for giving me an evening that I have only ever dreamt of

Laila Mohamaddi

“It almost feels a bit silly that I am so sad about leaving a country where I stayed for all of 20 days, and which I knew was a transit country. I think it was because of the people that Qatar has made such a big place in my heart, especially the volunteers – how they came every day with a smile on their faces, ready to help with any and every request.

“All of them had day jobs and the fact that they gave us their evenings, their free time, makes me so grateful. Their warmth never made us feel like a burden, they became friends, and quickly I found myself waiting for them to visit us every evening.”

Having seen the twinkle in Mohammadi’s eyes every time an art exhibition was mentioned, QF volunteers organized a small exhibition of her work which, she said, gave her sleepless nights.

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Laila Mohammadi with H.E. Lolwa Al Khater, Assistant Foreign Minister and Spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state of Qatar

“When I was told by QF volunteers that my paintings would be exhibited, I wasn’t able to sleep that night,” she said. “I kept imagining it in my head what it would be like – a girl whose paintings have stayed locked up for so many years will finally see the light of day. They will finally have people outside my family see them.

“I want to thank Qatar Foundation’s volunteers for giving me an evening that I have only ever dreamt of. I will cherish this time for as long as I live, and will use it to bolster my confidence in my ability as an artist when the going gets tough.”

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