One of the most important things we can do as a non-profit organization is to make a connection. Not just between donors and projects, but between communities and individuals. Working in Afghanistan makes that connection very difficult to achieve.
Time and time again, people travel to the far-flung corners of the world, and come back changed forever. Touched by the people they met, the smells, the food, the landscape, they become connected in a visceral way. The people that have lived and worked in Afghanistan have that visceral connection, but it is not a place we can take donor trips to or host student exchanges.
Couple the lack of security with the media coverage of the war on terror, and the stereotypes built around a nation that has endured nearly forty years of conflict, and it becomes even more difficult to connect to the real Afghanistan. Mountain2Mountain was founded on the idea that we can create a ripple effect of change and compassion by connecting communities and cultures.
Out of that founding principle, Streets of Afghanistan was born. A multimedia exhibition that unites Afghan and Western photographers and videographers to bring a little piece of Afghanistan into our world for one night. Visitors walk amongst 10×8 foot high images and video projections that recreate the market streets in Kabul. The rolling green hills captured by photographer Beth Wald, look more akin to Norway than Afghanistan until you notice the yak train in the corner. It creates a different sense of place than the deserts and dusty landscapes usually associated with the region. The beauty, and the dichotomy of that beauty, set against the destruction and history takes your breath away.
The signature image of the exhibition, is a woman covered in a burqa sitting with her child in her lap, begging in the middle of the road. The image captures both the pain and beauty of Afghanistan; juxtaposing the dream-like quality of the country and its residents, against the ravaging effects of three decades of conflict and war. Photographer Tony Di Zinno captured the image from an oncoming car — lensing the feeling of impending contact. In reality, the driver stopped when he came to the woman and handed her some food from the kebab stand he had just visited for lunch.
Interspersed amongst the landscapes and streets, seven-foot-high portraits of women greet visitors. Images of teachers, students, police officers, ministers of parliament, mothers, and victims of self-immolations show the diversity of the women of Afghanistan — their beauty and strength in a country known for its oppression. Walking, ghost-like, through the crowd the images, and the video projections of market scenes and rural life, are real women dressed in the different colored burqas of Afghanistan.
Art has the power to change. Streets of Afghanistan aims to do just that; open hearts and minds in an effort to combat apathy with compassion. “Dare to believe in our common humanity” is not just our tagline — its a call to action. Come join us!
Streets of Afghanistan opens in Denver with a one day event at the Denver Art Museum on April 28, 2011, followed by an event at the Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art as it begins its journey as a traveling cultural exhibition.
photo by Di Zinno