Tag Archives: street art

Preserving Afghanistan’s History – Afghan Archive

The Afghan archive is housed at Afghanistan Center at Kabul University, ACKU.  The center was opened in the spring of 2013.  It is the only archive of its kind in Afghanistan and serves to collect and preserve all documents and books related to Afghanistan’s modern history, at this moment numbered around 80,000 and growing.

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The bulk of the center’s archive was collected by Nancy and Louis Dupree who started collecting Afghan books and documents while living in Peshawar among Afghan refugees.  The eclectic colletion includes communist propaganda, UN reports, fliers printed by warlords, books, photography, and newspapers.  There are also a number of photography books from the 1960′s and 1970′s that show Afghanistan, and particularly Kabul in a completely different light than what most imagine it was.

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The fascinating part of the story is how Nancy got the collections from Peshawar to Kabul.  Starting in 2006, they began to smuggle around 60,000 documents back to Kabul in plastic bags hidden in trucks fearful that the collection could be destroyed if discovered. A team works to digitize all the documents in the archive for a free open sourced digital archive that anyone in the world with a computer can access.   The enormity of the task means that the team estimates it will take till 2017 to catch up.

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The archive not only preserves books and documents, it also had a separate room that houses a newspaper archive.  I visited with my friend, Jelena Bjelica, a Serbian journalist living in Kabul, who is now working with ACKU.   We were surrounded by piles of bound books of newspapers including Taliban newspapers under the name Shariat, and various mujahedeen newspapers, each faction had its own.  The library manager, Rahim Qaderdan, opened up a book of Shariat papers, noticeable for their lack of photographs.  The sense of history that surrounded me, palpable in the yellow pages stacked to the ceiling.

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The collection first went to the Kabul Library and now is housed in a modern architectural building, ACKU, on the Kabul University Campus.  The center hosts a variety of speakers and presentations in the auditorium.

I was there to deliver a copy of the Streets of Afghanistan book for the archive.  An incredible honor.  I watched the book go to the archivist’s desk to get its identification number and label.   It is now a part of the Afghan archive housed inside the Afghanistan Centre at Kabul University a part of Afghanistan’s modern history.

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The book is available for sale – proceeds benefit Mountain2Mountain – at www.streetsofafghanistanbook.com  by Hatherleigh Press.

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Photography, Voice, and Hope in Afghanistan

The Streets of Afghanistan was a project based in hope.  Using photography as voice, and art as activism, we set up a series of street art installations in Afghanistan.  Red Reel was with us to document five of the seven exhibitions.  We can now share with you the beauty of the country, the reactions of those that saw the exhibition, and the place that art has in conflict zones.  It was such an honor to bring this exhibition to Afghanistan and to share it with Afghans.  We return in the spring for a finale exhibition in a secret location, and then distribute the photographs to orphanages, girls schools, women’s groups, Kabul stadium, and the Mayor’s office as a thank you for his office’s support of this public exhibition in the Kabul locations.  Thank you everyone that supported this project, we couldn’t be prouder.

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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 Exhibitions a Success

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”  - Joel A. Barker

Against the odds, Mountain2Mountain completed 5 public exhibitions and 2 photo stagings at historic sites over the past two weeks in Afghanistan.

The first was a staging at Kabul’s historic Darulamon Palace.

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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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Sneak Peek at Kabul’s Darlumon Palace

29 life-size photographs made it all the way from Colorado through Kabul airport for a series of public art exhibitions in Afghanistan.  Other than getting our roll of duct tape confiscated in Dubai security – everything arrived intact.

Today, was the sneak peek at Kabul’s historic Darulaman Palace. Stay tuned for what comes next!

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Street Art – An Afghan Voice Emerging?

Something new is in the streets of Kabul.

Increased security?  Check

Lakes of mud and sewage?  Check

Street art?  Check?

Street art, stencil art specifically, has popped up on several walls across Kabul over the past year.

Under the cover of night they take to the streets of Kabul, armed with stencils, spray paint and cameras.   The youth of Afghanistan are finding their voice.

Tanks, soldiers, dollar signs, poppies, refugees, students in school, helicopters, Talibs, and question marks are assembled into equations – giving Afghans and Westerners alike a reason to stop in curious wonder and think. The ‘unknown’ taggers created the question, “Chand Ast?”. In stencil art. Translated from Dari to English it means “How Much?”  — an effort to challenge all of us about the Cost of War.

The anonymous artists are part of Combat Communications, a group of artists and musicians in Kabul that started Afghanistan’s stencil art movement to increase awareness and inspire conversation about the cost of war.  As in much street art around the world, there is a strong undercurrent of activism.

Mountain2Mountain has teamed with Combat Communications and Cultures of Resistance to work with Afghanistan’s next generation of artists.  We will begin in two weeks with a workshop with London street artist, Chu, and Kabul University art students called “This is Afghanistan”.

Street art is any art created in a public spaces and it goes far beyond the stereotype of graffiti and wall tagging by vandals and gangs.  Its purpose is to question the current environment and inspire dialogue about socially relevant topics.  Street art has proved that it a powerful platform by challenging existing paradigms and fueling resistance movements all over the world.  Banksy’s iconic images on the walls of the West Bank attracted international attention and brought street art into the spotlight.  And this year’s iconic $100,000 TED prize, given to one “charitably minded person who works to change the world” went to 27 year-old street artist JR, a guerilla artist from Paris who installs his massive work across the world’s poorest slums and refugee camps.

“JR’s mind-blowing creations have inspired people to see art where they wouldn’t expect it and create it when they didn’t know they could,” stated TED prize director, Amy Novogratz.

Street art has become a recognized and integral part of the art world as the work of international street artists like Banksy, Ash, and Shepard Fairey have become must-have pieces in many private art collections.

What does this have to do with Afghanistan?  It comes down to the root of street art.  Freedom.  Expression.  A voice.  A point of view.  Youth culture has always been rooted in these ideals.  But the youth in Afghanistan have grown up under the darkness of the Taliban, without art, music, sports, and a robust cultural ife or the freedom to develop one of their own.  Their voice has yet to fully emerge.

If we want to see real, sustainable change in countries like Afghanistan, we have to look to the next generation.  They need to find their inspiration, their culture, and their voice.  The need to develop a community and see themselves in the future of their own country.  They need to get involved and rediscover their passion for their country and their vision for its future.

Art is one part of the solution.  Join us.

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