Tag Archives: art

Shamsia – an Afghan Graffiti Artist

Ask westerners living in Afghanistan what they think about the country’s future  and you get a variety of answers, most cynical.  But the best response I heard was two weeks ago over a coffee at Kabul’s Flower Street Cafe,  “The people are sweet and the country’s a mess”.

Shamsia epitomizes the ‘people are sweet and the country’s a mess’ like few others.  An artist and faculty professor of fine arts at Kabul University, she has a soft disposition and gentle face with large brown eyes and an easy smile that makes her seem even younger than her 23 years.  After knowing Shamsia virtually for two years, I finally got to sit down with her at the artist refuge, The Venue in Kabul where one of her murals is a work in progress on an interior wall, to discuss her vision of art in Afghanistan and beyond.

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Streets of Afghanistan By the Numbers

What does it take top produce a handful of full-scale public photo exhibitions in Afghanistan? We broke it down by numbers.

Bags checked all the way to Kabul: 32

Number of bags that made it safely to Kabul: 32

Hours spent waiting in Dubai airport: 22

Hours spent sleeping on Dubai airport floor: 3.5

Porters that it took to transport bags from airport to bus: 5

Photo exhibits produced: 4

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A Garden of Photography for Women in Kabul

Women were a rarity at the three public exhibitions in Afghanistan.  While many families attended Babur Gardens, only a few saw the exhibition in Istalif and the Kabul Zoo.  Therefore, it was a pleasure to bring the exhibition to the Women’s Garden in the heart of Kabul.

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A Space for Art Emerges in Kabul

Afghanistan is not the place you think of for emerging artists and activist culture.  Yet few countries in the world are more ripe for an artistic scene.  Just sit for a few hours over coffee at The Venue, a coffeeshop turned artist refuge, surrounded by  the work of artists like Shamsia and Kabir, and you can literally feel the pulse of an artistic heartbeat.  Just in side the entrance is the artist statement spray painted on the steel doors.  Our table had members of the Afghan metal band, District Unknown, visiting Swiss artists, graffiti artist, Shamsia, and an inspiring ex-pat that is supporting the vision of creating more space for Afghan voice.

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‘Streets of Afghanistan’ Exhibit in Istalif

Yesterday we premiered the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition in the village of Istalif, a remote village in the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. Four years ago, I envisioned a collaborative photography exhibition between Afghan photographers and Western photographers that had deep affection for this country. Instead of a gallery show, I imagined surrounding the viewer in the image to bring the art off the wall, and into the viewers world.  I wanted to see people’s reaction as they interacted with lifesize images and hoped that it would change American perspectives of Afghanistan – that if we saw it as a country with a beautiful spirit and culture that we would be more invested in it from a humanitarian perspective.

Yesterday I saw that vision come full circle as we brought the exhibition TO Afghanistan, among Afghans themselves to surround them with the beauty and spirit of their country and communities.  28 photographs lines the market streets outside of the mosque on the first day of Eid in the village of Istalif and the reaction was nothing short of amazing.

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Streets of Afghanistan Photography Exhibit Heads Back to Afghanistan

In the upcoming weeks we are headed with a team to finally bring the Streets of Afghanistan exhibit to Afghanistan, for a groundbreaking exhibition of 40 life-size photographic images that capture the beauty and the soul of this region.

In 2008 we launched the Streets of Afghanistan project, facilitating a collaboration of Afghan and Western photographers to document Afghan life through the rarely seen Afghan lens. The resulting photographs immerse the viewer in the landscapes and faces of Afghanistan, transporting them directly into the culture and mindset of the country’s people. After touring the US, we’re very excited that the exhibit will come full circle and finally be shown in several public exhibits in Kabul, allowing the general Afghan public to interact with art in a way that they rarely have the opportunity to do.

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Streets of Afghanistan – A Cultural Exhibition

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

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Views of the Himalaya – A Curator’s First Steps

Upon entering the vast unknown of the non profit world – I quickly realized how I wanted to do things differently.  I didn’t want to just raise money, I wanted to tell stories and connect communities together.   I didn’t want someone to just donate money and forget about it.  Or worse, not really understand where their money was going.  I wanted to them to care about the communities we were raising money for.  To care what happened to people on the other side of the world.  To understand that while they have a different face, language, culture, and religion – they want the same things for their children that we do here at home.

As the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

I chose photography to be the medium to create the story around our year two partner, the dZi Foundation.  Unwittingly, casting myself in the role of curator-in-training.

In four short, fast, months I enlisted the help of a local photographer and documentary filmmaker to help me reach out to photographers I wanted in the show and to develop a critical opinion of the pieces we found that seemed appropriate.  We set a high bar for the quality of the show, never considering that we wouldn’t get the artists we searched out.

Lessons learned:

1.  Photographers live hectic lives, are hard to pin down, and are asked a lot to donate work for shows or good causes.  Keep it simple and inexpensive for them to be involved.

2.  At the same time, almost every photographer saw the value of what we doing and wanted to be part of creating the story of this diverse and colorful region.

3.  Producing a show is expensive!

4.  Traveling show is even more expensive.  I shipped ‘Views’ out to Los Angeles for its second gallery show.  A month later, I flew out myself one way, rented a car, and drove the show back to Colorado for a third of the shipping cost.

5.  Trust your gut.  And your eye.   I knew immediately what I liked or didn’t like even if I didn’t have the words yet to express why.  90% my initial reaction was the right one.

6.  Find artists you trust and ask their opinions to help hone your eye,  create your verbage, debate your decisions, and develop your overall view of the show as a cohesive story.

7.  You can publish your own exhibit book.  Blurb.com rocks!   No design fees, no minimum orders, and you get a ISBN number and link so that people can view and buy your book online!

8.  Many galleries book a year out and many have submission guidelines and dates.  If galleries are booked, get creative.  We have shown the ‘Views’ show in a variety of venues.  The American Mountaineering Museum, as the first show at a new gallery in LA, and a movie theater with a formal gallery attached to its lobby.

9.  .  Don’t forget the purpose of the show beyond storytelling is fundraising.

The unexpected lesson is that the ‘Views’ show connected me intimately with people that had only been on my periphery.   We ran in different circles, some in different cities, our busy lives preventing any real connection.  They are deep and talented individuals that gracefully allowed me to be ignorant, helped me develop my ‘curator’s eye’, shared their experiences, and gave me their enduring support.

I’m so grateful for that blissful twist!

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