In Afghanistan, Performer Packs Up His Bling Aman Mojadidi, an Afghan-American performance artist, made a name for himself in Kabul by setting up fake police checkpoints and running a phony campaign for Parliament. But now he says he's leaving Afghanistan, disappointed at the slow pace of progress.
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In Afghanistan, Performance Artist Packs Up His Bling

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In Afghanistan, Performance Artist Packs Up His Bling

In Afghanistan, Performance Artist Packs Up His Bling

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Now, we're going to meet a man who is known as that Jihadi Gangsta. He's an Afghan-American performance artist who's been living in Kabul. His work includes fake police checkpoints, fur flak jackets and a phony campaign for parliament. He has provoked controversy and laughter, but as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports now, the Jihadi Gangsta says it's time to leave Afghanistan.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Aman Mojadidi moved to Afghanistan in 2003 as one, he says, of the many Afghan-Americans and Afghan-Europeans who thought their homeland was finally on the mend.

AMAN MOJADIDI: So it was really kind of part of that wave of hyphenated Afghans wanting to come to Afghanistan post-Taliban, do something, rebuild, reconstruct.

LAWRENCE: Mojadidi grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, but he always had one foot in Afghanistan. His father, a doctor from a storied Afghan family, returned every summer to act as combat surgeon for the mujahedeen, the rebels who fought the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Mojadidi even visited once during the war with his father, but decided fighting was not for him.


LAWRENCE: On a recent visit, Mojadidi cocked a gold-painted Kalashnikov in his Kabul studio, sitting on display next to a gold prosthetic leg. He calls it conflict bling.

MOJADIDI: You know, Afghans often talk about, you know, I did jihad for X number of years and so I deserve, kind of, X, Y and Z. It seemed almost to me like bling, like this kind of internal bling that represented their status, their position, their almost social wealth, at least.

LAWRENCE: The idea evolved into a character called the Jihadi Gangsta, a combination of an Afghan warlord and a hip-hop gangster. Mojadidi combines the traditional Afghan robe and turban with a tank top and a gold-plated pistol hanging around his neck. One photo from a series shows the Jihadi Gangsta sitting on a sofa watching television surrounded by guns, bullets, booze and a supplicating woman wearing a burqa, but almost nothing else. Once he had the character, he took it a step further.

MOJADIDI: It seems like the natural kind of culmination of the Jihadi Gangsta would be for him to run for parliament.

LAWRENCE: The Afghan Parliament is full of former warlords and their subordinates. Mojadidi's campaign slogan was: vote for me. I've done jihad and I'm rich. His face on the posters is obscured by the words: your favorite jihadi here.

MOJADIDI: It was interesting because you had a lot of people say, you're telling the truth in this poster and we have a lot of criminals who are now in power and in government, but the posters themselves didn't even last on the walls more than maybe three or four days. They were ripped off.

LAWRENCE: Mojadidi also took on more quotidian corruption with a performance piece called "Payback." He bought a police uniform and set up a fake checkpoint in Kabul.


LAWRENCE: On a video of the stunt, motorists pull up with dread to a checkpoint that will often involve the police hitting up drivers for small bribes. Instead, Mojadidi hands them an apology for any bribes they've ever paid, along with a small payback bribe.

MOJADIDI: Four of the cars that I offered money didn't take the money. I think they either thought it was some sort of setup or they just really couldn't quite wrap their head around it. And then you had some people who just took the money and drove away.


LAWRENCE: But Mojadidi's love affair with his adopted homeland is over. As with many Afghans who came back 10 years ago, he says progress has been disappointing. He plans to return periodically, but his next exhibit showing in Paris is called "Goodbye Homeland." Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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