The artist who painted in secret, Beyond Skin celebrates International Women’s Day with inspirational Afghan artist Alina Gawhary

6th March, 2024

Afghan female visual artist and musician, Alina Gawhary is visiting Northern Ireland this week as part of Beyond Skin’s International Women’s Day celebrations, supported by The National Lottery through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. During her visit Alina will share inspirational talks with students in schools and youth groups about her experiences of living in persecution from the Taliban in Afghanistan, both as a female and as an artist, and having to paint in secret before fleeing to Bangladesh on a university scholarship.

The photo shows young female artist Alina Gawhary in a grey hoodie standing beside a piano and her colourful artwork of a piano that she painted.  She is standing in a church with stained glass windows in the background and the light is shining in.
Artist Alina Gawhary pictured with her artwork.

Alina Gawhary is now living safely in Bangladesh where she can study and work as an artist. During her time in NI, Alina will also visit groups in the North Coast, Derry-Londonderry and Dungannon before returning to Belfast for a talk at Ulster University and to take part in Belfast’s International Women’s Day parade with Reclaim the Agenda.

Watch the video with Alina Gawhary below.

Alina Gawhary said, 

“I am Alina Gawhary. I am a professional artist and amateur musician from Afghanistan. I have spent my whole life with fear, stress and just for being a girl and an artist. My everyday life has its own sad story that made me an artist which helped to shelter art and tell stories and reality through my art. I was born in 2004 in Kabul province and in a big family, have five sisters, two brothers and now currently living in Bangladesh. My life totally changed when the regime came back into power and stole my dreams and made my home a prison. I was painting the beauty and reality in secret.”

She continued

Most subjects of my paintings are music instruments as the situation didn’t let me play music. I wanted to show my interest through my paintings. The only thing I can do as an artist for my country and my family is to show beauty, unheard voices and beauty of music. I use my brushes as a weapon in front of the sad things which are happening in my country. I was one of the lucky young women and got out of Afghanistan with a scholarship to a university in Bangladesh. My paintings through Darren (Beyond Skin) and friends are being sold to people around the word which is very exciting for me.”

Alina got her safe passage from Afghanistan to Bangladesh on 5 March 2023 with the help of music composer Sadie Harrison, a process that took a year and a half as Alina negotiated her way through Taliban checkpoints to get her passport, over and over again. Sadie Harrison is a composer known for the socio-political aspects of music-making with several of her works challenging the stereotypes of marginalised people including refugees, Afghan women, the deaf and the homeless. On 6 March, Sadie and Alina are finally going to meet, almost two and a half years after Alina first sent a Facebook message with a photograph of her artwork in flames, burned by the Taliban.

Composer, Sadie Harrison, said, 

“I'm not sure why I responded, having received so many messages requesting help after the Taliban took the country again. But I did, and Alina wrote back....and here we are.”

Alina’s NI visit has been organised by Beyond Skin, a NI based organisation that uses music, arts and new media as tools for peacebuilding, cultural education & exchange in an aim to address issues of racism & sectarianism. Beyond Skin has also been helping Alina get her artwork safely out of Afghanistan and is helping her sell it.

Darren Ferguson, Chief Executive, Beyond Skin, added, 

“Beyond Skin’s main aim is to use the arts as a tool to strengthen community relations, nurture peace, empower young people and promote respect between different cultures so we are thrilled that Alina Gawhary is visiting Northern Ireland this week. It was through Sadie Harrison that Beyond Skin connected to Alina. During the weeks and months that followed the fall of Kabul, many of us connected with Afghanistan and were receiving hundreds of disturbing messages of desperation from Afghan people seeking help.

It was heartbreaking and we all still get people reaching out for help, especially women musicians and artists now under gender apartheid and facing a ban on creative expression by the regime. I am absolutely overjoyed Alina will visit Belfast, a UNESCO City of Music which is very significant, and also attend events in Dungannon, Newtownabbey and the City of Derry."
The photo shows young female artist Alina Gawhary in a grey hoodie standing beside a piano and her colourful artwork of a piano that she painted.  She is standing with Darren Ferguson from Beyond Skin in a church with stained glass windows in the background and the light is shining in.
Artist Alina Gawhary with Darren Ferguson of Beyond Skin.

Patricia Lavery, Head of Community Arts and Education, Arts Council of Northern Ireland, added, 

“The Arts Council of Northern Ireland is proud to support the impressive work of Beyond Skin, thanks to The National Lottery players. Alina’s experiences of overcoming persecution as a woman and as an artist will undoubtedly inspire and move audiences here deeply and demonstrates the power of using the arts as a tool to bring people and communities closer together in shared understanding. Well done to all involved.”

In addition to a series of private events, Alina will attend public events at:

  • 6th March, North Coast visit in partnership with Causeway Coast & Glens Council
  • 7 March, First Steps Women’s Centre Dungannon, 11am – 1pm. Contact
  • 7 March, Northwest Migrants Forum Awards, Derry-Londonderry, 7pm
  • 8 March, Ulster University Belfast, 5.30pm – 7.30pm
  • 9 March, Belfast IWD in partnership with Reclaim the Agenda with the procession starting at 11am from City Hall and speeches from 12:30pm.

For more information on the above events visit