Mohammad Hanif – Refugee and Artist


Mohammad Hanif is a refugee from Afghanistan who has landed in Dayton.  I first met him about six weeks ago.  Mohammad, the man on the left in the photo below, is the artist who painted these two pieces.  The man on the right is his son Ahmad and the man in the middle is a translator.
Herb Schwendeman was accompanying the trio. He explained to me that Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley was helping Mohammad.  Herb is teaching him English.  When he asked Mohammad about his profession in Afghanistan, he grabbed a pencil and a piece of paper and started to draw. When Herb eventually got a chance to see some of Mohammad’s work, he knew he needed to introduce him to some of the people in Dayton’s art community.
When I met them, Herb had already taken Mohammad to The Collaboratory  and the Dayton Visual Arts Center. I saw the group as they met people at The ARTery at Front Street. Next they planned to go to the Gallery 510 Fine Art in Dayton’s Oregon District.
I wanted to visit Mohammad and get some photos of him painting, so Herb Schwendeman gave me the phone number of a friend of Mohammad.  I learned that Mohammad was working second shift somewhere, and painting in his home every morning before he went to work.  I arranged to visit him the next day.

Mohammad and his son live in a small condo in Centerville.  When I entered, Mohammad was painting next to the kitchen window, using a folding chair as his easel.   I encouraged him to keep painting as I watched and then photographed him at work while I snacked on some fruit and juice that was laid out for me.

Neither Mohammad or his son spoke much English, so they called a friend who could translate.  While we waited I took more photos and asked a few simple questions.  I asked how long they had been in Dayton and Ahmad said “six”.  I assumed that meant six months, and the translator confirmed that when he arrived.  I also learned that Mohammad’s last name was Hanif, which I then noticed was how he had signed his paintings.


I tried to understand what the horsemen in the painting were doing, but that proved too complicated.  Then I took a close look at the photograph Mohammad was using to guide his painting.  He pulled out these two photos which I believe are the next two paintings he plans to do.


Then I took a photo of Mohammad’s son Ahmad and showed it to him.  He got his smart phone and showed me his facebook page.  It had a number of excellent photos, some of which had some complicated photoshop work done to them.  He indicated that his job in Afghanistan included photography and photoshop, but I couldn’t understand more than that.


I saw two landscapes painted by Mohammad and pulled them out to get a better look.  The dates on the photos showed that they had been done in 1988, when Mohammad was in Afghanistan.



Then Mohammad got the two paintings that I had already seen a few weeks ago.  I looked at the signature and learned that they had been painted this September and October.


When the translator arrived he told me he could only stay for a few minutes, but he was able to give me a little more information.  He said that the men in this painting were playing Buzkashi, a game where players on horseback try to capture a goat carcass and place it in a goal.  It is the national sport in Afghanistan and matches draw thousands of fans.


The translator also told me that when Mohammad lived in Afghanistan he was a professional painter.  He made money by selling his work and by teaching.

The translator said that he had come to the U.S. on a special visa given to a small number of Afghans who worked for the U.S. forces there.  He said he wasn’t able to explain how Mohammad and his son were fortunate enough to come here.

I decided to leave so that Mohammad could get some painting done.  He needed to leave for his factory job at 2 pm.   If anyone is interested in buying or exhibiting Mohammad’s work, they should contact me at  I have phone numbers for three of Mohammad’s friends who speak English and can pass on messages.


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