Monthly Archives: December 2010

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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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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