Afghanistan, art of resistance

(Interview) Janus Metz Pedersen: War Is Like a Drug.

Janus Metz Pedersen is a Danish director known for the remarkable documentary Armadillo. It is a film about a group of Danish soldiers at Armadillo, an army base in the southern Afghan province of Helmand. Above all – it is a film about the chaos of war, both internal and external, about the mind games soldiers play in silence, and the spells of black magic that catch their shadows everywhere they go.

The film had a strong impact on me, and the least I could do was to discuss it with the director – Janus Metz Pederson.

Janus_Metz_credit_Robin_Skjoldborg/Janus Metz Pederson© Lorber Films / Photo: Robin Skjoldborg/

Armadillo is a film that, I imagine, was a real challenge in terms of preparations and expectations. No matter how well one is prepared, war  is something hard to prepare for and conflict areas always manage to surprise. What were the great differences (if there were any) between the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and your preparations in Denmark?

There were two preparations that I went through. I had to prepare myself, and prepare the film, in terms of grasping what the film was about. Preparing myself and preparing the film was sometimes part of the same process. I figured the best way to do that was to go and embed myself with the troops, to grasp the experience of the soldier. I did a lot of research, talked with the soldiers that were in Afghanistan, but also to Afghans I knew, to get a view of the conflict from a different perspective. I tried to immerse myself in the military culture and analyze how that affects the war. I did a lot of training with soldiers and tried to get to know them personally. I think of myself as an anthropologist filmmaker, I like to stand beside the characters, go through the process with them, and observe what they are doing. I particularly pay attention to emotion, to be able to tell it and film it.

About the differences on the ground – the thing is, you can never prepare for what’s happening on the ground, there has to be a level of stupidity or naivety in you to go out there and do it. You know, I’m not a war reporter, I’m more of an artist, an anthropologist. It was like, in a way, I got into the job, did the preparation and just couldn’t turn back and not do it.  I think that’s what happens to a lot of soldiers too. I mean, you go through this whole process – you have to write a farewell letter to your family, settle your scores before leaving. In that sense, I was forced to deal with a lot of personal issues that I wouldn’t usually deal with. Suddenly, your relationships become very important, the world around you becomes important, because you have to say goodbye to it. There is at the same time this myth of importance, the feeling you are a part of something big and you can go on and do it now. It’s almost like a soldier is a character with a death wish, with a desire to feel the world here and now, liberated from his old ties. So the whole preparation and the experience on the ground offered a lot of challenges and interesting insights for me personally and for the film.

armadillo_9/Mads in Armadillo© Lorber Films / Photo: Lars Skree/

In relation to the  film, I was surprised to see how young most of the soldiers were, and I also had a feeling they came from relatively safe background (financially). Generally speaking, a lot of the soldiers deployed to Afghanistan choose to go on missions because of the money, and in the US – the idea of ‘defenfing ourselves’, but what was the motivation of these Danish soldiers? From the film, I get a feeling that a lot of them did it out of the need for ‘adventure’. From your experience, living and filming among them – what is, at the end of it all – the main reason these young soldiers had for going to Afghanistan?

I think a lot of it has to do with my life has a purpose thing, although it may not be expressed by soldiers in such a way. They also did it for political reasons, there was a feeling of ‘defending ourselves’ in Denmark too, a feeling of fighting for a better world, but I always feel like that is almost an excuse, or just a surface layer of reasoning. I don’t think money is a high drive, although you can earn good money that way. A lot of the soldiers come from low middle class families with lower level of education, but I still wouldn’t think of money as the main reason for going on these missions. There are also career reasons, a lot of these young men wanted a career in military, and this was one important step towards it. There is also a great level of friendship and comradeship in these circumstances and that is appealing to many. Above that all, I feel like in the Western world, war has become something like an identity quest, an identity travel you undertake as a young person. In the 90’s everybody used to go backpacking, and now they go to war. It’s this desire for close to death experience. Have you noticed how nobody does bungee jumping anymore?  They search for adrenaline in other places.

From my experience on the ground I can tell you that soldiers are not politicians, and they don’t dwell on politics too much, or at all. They were given a good reason to be there, in their minds, and from that point onwards there’s a lot of parroting, a lot of mimicking of what someone else had said.

The film was criticized in Denmark for its portrayal of some of the soldiers and their behavior in combat. Where you suprised by that and, reflecting back, what would you say about the criticism you received?

Doing the film, I was prepared for the big debate, I knew the film would be taken apart. Most of the criticism can be summed up in one sentence: You haven’t filmed all the good things we do. But a lot of the so-called good things are fragile, unsustainable. Armadillo is about the psychological dynamic this war creates, about mistrust, about resistance to the occupation, about all those things. The political arguments were an expression of spin politics, right-wing parties were very clever about it – they said Armadillo was great because it showed how difficult being in the war is and we must remember difficulties of those who serve, but also remember that – they are doing it for the ‘higher purpose’. The film was a shock to the nation, it really was. It think it was the most discussed film in Denmark ever probably. But, all in all, that is good, because the debate about the war in Afghanistan was necessary.

Since ISAF entered Afghanistan, Denmark has been a committed and loyal coalition partner. The year 2014 marked the 17th rotation and final deployment to Afghanistan for DANCON. Since their first mission began, more than 18,000 Danish soldiers have deployed to the country. Throughout their deployments in Afghanistan, 43 soldiers were killed in action. Could you talk about the opinion of the Danish public about this mission and how has it changed since Armadillo was made?

A lot of things have changed, I think there is an understanding now that this war was not our victory. We have war veterans in Denmark now, for the first time after 19th century, and we have to learn to deal with that reality. When the film came out Afghanistan was a good war, Iraq was a bad war. Political climate was different, there was no place for criticism of the war in Afghanistan. Soldiers serving in Afghanistan were perceived as an extened version of ourselves, as the ones doing the dirty job for us. It has changed with time, we had to retreat, and discuss the war in-depth. That is what Armadillo did – we explored the true nature of war, and I am not saying we did it perfectly but I think we did help in starting the debate and the reflection process.

Armadillo is beautifully filmed, visually polished, with many striking images. Were you afraid of that aspect – of making it so beautiful aesthetically? It makes me think of one of Banksy’s anecdotes – he remembered how an old Palestinian man said his painting made the wall look beautiful. Banksy thanked him, only to be told: “We don’t want it to be beautiful, we hate this wall. Go home.” Were you afraid of getting a similiar reaction?

Yes, I understand that fear. You don’t want war to look beautiful, but in a scary way it is beautiful. I mean that in terms of all the darkness, the heart of darkness you can explore. I wanted to use all the filmmaking tools available to present this war story, not just the obvious level of it, but all the deeper ones, the levels of the unsaid. I wanted to use all the artistic tools to get to that deeper level. I also wanted to transcend the usual presentation of war. Making the film visually beautiful provided even a greater shock in some of the horrible situations like seeing a shooting and dead bodies. All that ugliness stood out more when it was put in this polished frame, it offered us to give a crack and the audiences to see that crack, to witness the dichotomy. That was our way of mediating the war to people.

armadillo6/Armadillo© Lorber Films / Photo: Lars Skree/

From the interviews I did with war veterans, it was always surprising that they wanted to go back, most of them. One would think that, after witnessing all the horrors of war, they would never want to go back, but – just like in Armadillo – they do. Why do you think that is the case?

It’s one of the first things that started puzzling me… When I talked with some of the older soldiers about their experiences, they often said it was the best time of their life. Some of them have seen horrible things, but they still said they would do it again. I think it has a lot to do with that purpose of life thing, I think it made them feel their lives have higher meanings. I think they were longing to feel alive. Also, when you are a soldier, life is really simple. You’re told what to do, you have the same routine every day, you are a part of intense comradeship, and for many – it is a satisfying life. Even I, as a filmmaker, miss it sometimes. It’s just that intense. I think it also has a lot to do with some of our primal instincts, it’s like a drug in a way.

Finally, what are you doing at the moment, and what are some of your plans for future projects?

I recently came back from LA, I was directing one of the episodes of the second season of True Detective. I am soon going to Thailand to work on a documentary, which is actually a continuation of the two films I did – Love on Delivery and Tickets to Paradise, which deal with prostitution, sex industry and migration. My wish with this documentary is to see what happened to those people and around them, to do a character study over a ten year period (Love on Delivery was made eight years ago).

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Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Under The Spell of Opium.

Afghanistan has had opium issues for many years now (the country is the leading opium supplier in the world). In a society disrupted by ongoing conflicts, where more than eighty percent of citizens are farmers, opium has been the only possible getaway for many people – for those producing it – it was a getaway from starvation, and for those consuming it – it was a getaway from the depressing reality. Afghanistan’s economy has thus evolved to the point where it is now highly dependent on opium, just like its people are.

NYC59855/Badakshan province. A farmer collects poppies. © Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos/

In the 2014 Afghanistan Opium Survey (UNODC & Afghan Ministry of Counter Narcotics), there are several key findings:

The vast majority (89%) of opium cultivation took place in nine provinces in Afghanistan’s Southern and Western regions, which include the country’s most insecure provinces. The total area under opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 224,000 hectares in 2014, a 7% increase from 2013.  Average opium yield amounted to 28.7 kilograms per hectare in 2014, which was 9% more than in 2013 (26.3 kilograms per hectare), and potential opium production was estimated at 6,400 tons.

opium/photo via UNODC/

Eradication efforts have forced many poppy farmers into the margins of the countryside. To many of them, opium is the only way of securing annual income, only way to survive. That is the way they have been living for many years. War has a lot to do with it, of course. War has everything to do with it, acutally. Since the 1979 Soviet invasion and the insecurity that came with it, opium poppy cultivation became the core of Afghanistan’s agricultural economy. Afghanistan overtook Myanmar as top producer of illicit opium in 1991, and the cultivation has been increasing ever since (with short downfall periods – after 2008, eradication efforts, as well as a cash incentive program for provinces that eradicated all opium poppy crops, helped reduce cultivation drastically through 2010).

NYC59778/Nangahar province. Women and children stand in a corner as DEA and Afghan interdiction troops assault a village hiding chemicals and drugs. © Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos/

Incapable and corrupt government does not make it easier for the farmers. The provinces that are poppy-free receive $1 million awards from the American Embassy, paid directly to the governor’s office. It is not known how that money is divided among people, or what is done for the people with it. Many farmers continue cultivating in new places, in the deep jungle of the countryside.

In the provinces that are not poppy-free, farmers are just angry and sick of promises – many of them are promised wheat seeds and fertilizers to start a new cultivation business, but most of them were never given any, the same way the USAID money (and other aid money) often goes to suspicious places and projects that are never carried out.

hsod/photo via UNODC/

Afghanistan is a country still broken in many ways, and it seems that the only thing it is good at is producing opium. Afghanistan could become a true narco-state. In an article ‘Can Afghanistan Win The War Against Opium?‘ (February 2011 National Geographic), veteran Afghan law enforcement official said: “Afghanistan is controlled by the drug mafia. How else do you think those people in the government with their low-paying salaries bought their fancy houses in Dubai and the U.S. in the past few years?”

Another issue concerning opium is the addiction – around ten percent of Afghans are addicted to drugs, often opium or herion. They rarely receive drug treatments, because there are not many rehabilitation programs, and if there are – they are underfunded.

NYC59824/A poster warning against the use of opium. © Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum Photos/

The overall situation in Afghanistan could be described with one line from Thomas de Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater: “I take it for granted, that those eat now who never ate before; And those who always ate, now eat the more.”

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

The Little Book of Kabul.

The Little Book of Kabul is an intimate portrait  of Kabul through the eyes, accents and activities of a number of creative people who live in the city.  It is a project by Lorenzo Tugnoli, a freelance photographer based in Kabul, and Francesca Recchia, an independent researcher and writer. When they started the project, they weren’t sure what they wanted it to look like. But they were sure what they didn’t want it to portray. In a conversation with TIME LightBox, Recchia said: “One of the things that we didn’t want was an exotic dimension. An ‘Oh my God, you work in Kabul!’ moment.”

11/You can buy the book here/

Having lived in Kabul for three years, Tugnoli and Recchia were familiar with its community of artists, one struggling to preserve a sense of normality on a day-to-day basis. Recchia explains how: “It wasn’t a matter of interviewing someone or taking a picture and then leaving, it’s really quite an intimate perspective on people’s lives.”

ase/A man looks out of the window as he travels in a bus in downtown                                                       Kabul/

On Tugnoli’s website, the book is described as a project that “takes the reader in a personal journey through the strive for artistic expression and the small, ordinary moments of life that escape the media representation of three decades of conflict in Afghanistan.”

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aser/Arifa, a student at the Center for Contemporary Art, poses for one of he colleauges’ art work/

Tugnoli and Recchia also run a blog The Little Book of Kabul, where they post their thoughts, field notes and little stories of daily life in Kabul. Describing the process of creating the book, they write:

“We have tried to reverberate through words and images what Kabul has gifted us through the eyes of her artists. We built a narrative in fifty photographs and twenty short stories made of small close ups and emotions.

It has been a longer journey than what we had initially imagined. The book has slowly taken over, beyond the rationality of schedules and decisions, gaining an autonomous shape, its own ‘personality’. We have chosen to be led, to follow rather than set the pace; we have chosen to allow the unexpected and to be surprised.”

dag/An actress runs through the ruins of Darulaman Palace during the recording of a music video filmed by Jump Cut, a collective of young independent film-makers/

der/Young skaters practice in the garden of the Institut Français d’Afghanistan during the Sound Central Music Festival/

For them, Kabul has been a “journey demonstrating that the desire to imagine the future is an important tool to build the present.”

• • •

For more on the book and Tugnoli’s and Recchia’s work, visit their blog and Tugnoli’s website, and follow Recchia on twitter.

// all images in this post © Lorenzo Tugnoli/The Little Book of Kabul //

And a little music to conclude these Kabul fragments.

 

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Nadia Anjuman: One Day, My Hands Will Become Weavers.

Nadia Anjuman was an Afghan poet (born in 1980, died in 2005). She was born in Herat, a city captured by the Taliban in 1995. With no hope for continuing her education at that time, Anjuman rallied with other local women and began attending an underground educational circle called the Golden Needle Sewing School, organized by Herat University professor Muhammad Ali Rahyab in 1996.

Members would gather three times a week under the guise of learning how to sew (a practice approved by the Taliban government), while in actuality the meetings enabled them to hear lectures from Herat University professors and lead discussions on literature.

nadia anjuman/Nadia Anjuman, image via Phyllis MacLaren/

My first thought when learning about the Sewing Circle of Herat was very predictable – it reminded me of Dead Poets Society. The notion that they had to meet in secret to discuss literature and write poetry was terrifying and enchanting at the same time. Terrifying was the fact that they had to do it with such great risks, enchanting was that they did it in spite of that.

In 2001, the doors of the girl’s schools were opened once again. Anjuman was admitted to the Literature Department of Herat University, and couple of years later, when she died, her brother recalled how that was the happiest time in Nadia’s life – “she seemed as though she’d been handed the whole world”. Her parents were supportive and respectful of her talent and she was adored by her brothers and sisters. Her writing blossomed and she published her first book of poetry, Dark Flower, four years later (2005).

Rich

One day my thoughts, instead of a chill

will bring fireworks

One day my eyes will be wide open

such that

in seeing the shrunken leaves of the ocean, they continue flowing

One day my hands will become weavers

and upon life’s wasteland of a body

spin a gown with wheat and flowers

One day a lullaby

will bring sleep to the weary eyes of homeless children

One day I will sing praise

to the spirit of fire

with soothing songs of rain

On that day

I will write a rich and exalting poem

with the sweetness of a tree’s fruit and the beauty of the moon

(written in summer of 2001, translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Unfortunately, Anjuman found herself in an unhappy marriage. Her husband, Farid Ahmad Majid Neia, graduated from Herat University with a degree in literature and became the head of the library there. Although he was a literature graduate, many of Anjuman’s friends and relatives claim Neia was not supportive of her writing.  One night, in November of 2005, Anjuman and Neia had a fight. That night Neia beat Anjuman until she was unconscious, causing severe bruising and a cut to her head. It was reported that she died as a result of injuries to her head.

Anjuman’s brother describes the night she died:

“It was the bitterest news we had ever received. No one could believe it. That night was a hundred times darker than other nights. The moon had been veiled and Nadia’s life had been extinguished!”

He continues to say:

“Nadia was buried amidst an aura of tragedy; the light rain fell like tears in the cemetery in north-east Herat. In the days that followed tributes appeared in all publications. Nadia’s poetry, talent, character and personality were praised. Interviews appeared in the media, round table discussions and scholarly dissections of her tragic fate. Many people still come to our house to bless Nadia, but to what end? Nadia has left this horrible world forever.”

Anjuman’s husband Neia was imprisoned after her death, but the tribal elders in Herat began to lean on Anjuman’s ailing father, asking that he forgive Neia for her death in order to shorten his prison sentence. With the promise that Neia would remain in prison for five years, Anjuman’s father relented. Her death was officially deemed a suicide by the Afghan courts, and Neia was released just one month later. Her father died shortly after from the shock, according to Anjuman’s brother.

The Complete Poems of Nadja Anjuman were published by Iran Open Publishing Group in 2014. There are couple of English translations of  Anjuman’s poems available online. She is now one of the dead poets, but the eternal pit of time will not be able to turn her greatness into the darkness of oblivion, I am sure of that.

Eternal Pit (translated from Dari by Diana Arterian & Marina Omar)

Once she was filled with the familiar

Her hands planted the rootless sprig

with intuition—

so it would grow

 

Once, in the bright spring of her mind

ran many great thoughts

 

Once, at times

her hand tamed the trees

 

Once even her guts were obedient

perhaps they feared her power

But today

her hands are wasted and idle

her eyes burnt sockets

her bright thoughts are buried in a swamp

fading

 

She distrusts even her feet

They defy her

taking her where she doesn’t want to go

 

She sits in a corner of quiet

lost in a sea of darkness

emptied of the thought of time

That

eternal pit

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Remembering Meena Kamal: Hope Is The Thing With Feathers.

Hope is the thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson wrote a long time ago.  Where does it fly nowadays, does it keep its eyes on Afghanistan? Last night I read poems by Meena Keshwar Kamal (commonly known as Meena). I wanted to type something about Meena right away, but then decided it would be better to do it in the morning, to let her poems stay with me for a while, in the stillness of the night.

Meena was an Afghan revolutionary political activist, feminist and founder of Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA). She was only 20 when, in 1977, she launched RAWA, Afghanistan’s first organized movement for women’s rights. Four years later, Meena launched a bilingual feminist magazine called Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message).

Meena_founder_of_RAWA_speaking_in_1982/Meena speaking in 1982, photo via RAWA/

In the beginnings with RAWA, Meena started a campaign against the Russian forces and their puppet regime in 1979 and organized numerous processions and meetings in schools, colleges and Kabul University to mobilize public opinion. Payam-e-Zan has constantly exposed the criminal nature of fundamentalist groups. Meena also established Watan Schools for refugee children, a hospital and handicraft centers for refugee women in Pakistan to support Afghan women financially.

Sadly, when she was only 31, Meena was assassinated by agents of KHAD (Afghanistan branch of KGB) in Pakistan in 1987. She was married to Afghanistan Liberation Organization leader Faiz Ahmad, who himself was assassinated a year earlier, by the agents of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in 1986. They have three children, whose whereabouts are unknown.

meenaaaa/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

In a biography about Meena, published on the RAWA website following her death, the organization said:

 “Meena gave 12 years of her short but brilliant life to struggle for her homeland and her people. She had a strong belief that despite the darkness of illiteracy, ignorance of fundamentalism, and corruption and decadence of sell outs imposed on our women under the name of freedom and equality, finally that half of population will be awaken and cross the path towards freedom, democracy and women’s rights. The enemy was rightly shivering with fear by the love and respect that Meena was creating within the hearts of our people. They knew that within the fire of her fights all the enemies of freedom, democracy and women would be turned to ashes.”

poster2/RAWA’s poster for Meena/

In her poem I’ll Never Return, Meena writes:

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve arisen and become a tempest through the ashes of my burnt children

I’ve arisen from the rivulets of my brother’s blood

My nation’s wrath has empowered me

My ruined and burnt villages fill me with hatred against the enemy,

I’m the woman who has awoken,

I’ve found my path and will never return.

I’ve opened closed doors of ignorance

I’ve said farewell to all golden bracelets

Oh compatriot, I’m not what I was

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve found my path and will never return.

rawa2

/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

I’ve seen barefoot, wandering and homeless children

I’ve seen henna-handed brides with mourning clothes

I’ve seen giant walls of the prisons swallow freedom in their ravenous stomach

I’ve been reborn amidst epics of resistance and courage

I’ve learned the song of freedom in the last breaths, in the waves of blood and in victory

Oh compatriot, Oh brother, no longer regard me as weak and incapable

With all my strength I’m with you on the path of my land’s liberation.

My voice has mingled with thousands of arisen women

My fists are clenched with the fists of thousands compatriots

Along with you I’ve stepped up to the path of my nation,

To break all these sufferings all these fetters of slavery,

Oh compatriot, Oh brother, I’m not what I was

I’m the woman who has awoken

I’ve found my path and will never return.

Meena represented the struggle Middle East needs the most – the liberation from within. Not some Western forces coming to “liberate” or to “establish a democracy”, but a true change that can never be achieved by imposing it from the outside. She spoke about the history of Afghan women’s struggle for social recognition and equal rights in connection to the history of the country’s physical and cultural devastation (by different invasions and wars). She connected the two, which is what Western mainstream media so often fails to do.

Her organization, RAWA, continued with work after Meena was assassinated, and is still very active today:

RAWA believes that freedom and democracy can’t be donated; it is the duty of the people of a country to fight and achieve these values. Under the US-supported government, the sworn enemies of human rights, democracy and secularism have gripped their claws over our country and attempt to restore their religious fascism on our people.”

meena22/photo from the book Meena, Heroine of Afghanistan/

Women from RAWA are doing great things and helping many people. In that sense, all those images we see of helpless and abused Afghan women in the Western media, obuscure the great role Afghan women play as agents of change in Afghanistan, and have been playing for the last couple of decades. It’s not just RAWA and Meena. One of the things that first comes to my mind is the story of the village widowed women built on a hill overlooking Kabul. Or the story of women’s bakery in a small village in rural Afghanistan. Or the story of Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female street artist. Or the story of Setara, singer who appeared on the Afghan Star, sang with great emotion, and included dance in her final performance, an action that put her life in danger. Or the story of Sadaf Rahimi, first female boxer in Afghan national team, who was invited to London Olympics in 2012 (at the age of 17).

There’s many stories like this, and there will be many more, because the women of Afghanistan are not just oppressed, abused and broken, but powerful, brave and active. Like Meena was. Hope, that thing with feathers Dickinson wrote about, still keeps so many warm, and never stops – at all.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Afghanistan, A Daily Distress.

Massimo Berruti’s black and white photographs always manage to take me places. I do not mean that in terms of geography, I am talking about something like an internal bleeding, chaos emerging from within.

From his Pakistan series (Hidden Wounds, Drones Victims, The IDPs Drama /the Swat Valley/, just to name a few), to his Afghanistan series I am focusing on today, Berruti ‘produces’ great photographic work – one that really makes the viewer involved and almost argus-eyed.

Afghanistan, a daily distress is Berruti’s project from 2008. Published by Agence VU, the project is not only about the contemporary conflict, it excavates the wounds of the past, presenting the exhausting state of a never-ending story.

In the words of Agence VU: “Massimo Berruti is not an «Embedded» photographer. His work in Afghanistan is not just about a war. It’s a story about Afghan people’s life, destroyed in their flesh and in their soul by a conflict, which has been gnawing them for a long time. Drugs, car bombs, minds that fall into madness slowly but surely. All this is present in Massimo’s pictures…but above all in the situation they document.”

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//all images © Massimo Berruti/Agence VU//

For more on this project, go to Agence VU. For more on Massimo Berruti and his work, visit his Agence VU profile and his official website.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Kabul’s Pahlawan Gym Club, Wedding Party & Baba Taxi.

This headline might not make sense at first glance, but it will soon. Thanks to Versus Art, I discovered M. Sharif Amin, Kabuli artist who paints metal signboards. According to his Versus profile:

Mr. Sharif Amin is in his 50’s. He is from the earlier generation of Kabuli artists who lived through the Taliban. Amin was painting metal signboards when he was not allowed to create art. He has been using recycled and sheet metal to make popular, lorry truck, old school art instead. His work is both contemporary and reminiscent of old ways of painting in Afghanistan. Very few of the younger generation artists are following this school. However Amin has found a following in the expat market who are taken by his charming art and new thought – marrying the contemporary and the traditional in an interesting medium.

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//all images via Versus. Visit them if you wish to see more or buy M. Sharif Amin’s art//

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Art of Resistance: The Afghan Institute of Music, Kabul.

Andrew Quilty is a well known Australian photographer. He recently made his first trip to Afghanistan, where he intends to return very soon. From his first visit to Afghanistan, Quilty brought some great stories. One of them is a story about the Afghan Institute of Music in Kabul.

Artist statement:

“In 2001 further to the collapse of the Taliban government, whose radical interpretation of Islam led to a world without television nor music, it was the Afghan people themselves who brought music back into their lives” says Sarmast from his office at ANIM.

Originally, the ANIM (Afghan National Institute of Music) project led by Dr. Ahmad Sarmast, was a theoretical report commissioned by the Afghan Ministry of Culture on how to revive the taste for music in the country. During six years, Dr Sarmast led the project into a new direction, by creating in 2010 this independent school which provides free vocational music training and a general education to street kids and children (to both girls and boys) from remote provinces.

Yet, the lack of qualified Afghans music teachers and musicians is obvious despite the close links that exist between musical culture and Afghan philisophy. The World Bank’s subventions, the Afghan Education Ministry and the German and US governments’, provide help to this school and hence offering it the guarantees of a confortable future. It also gives the youth of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organisation – a national network of nine orphanages-cum-boarding schools – the possibility to access this educational system, especially the girls.

In this country where foundamentalist politic tensions tend to continue to slow down the development of the teaching of culture, the ANIM carries a message of hope towards the rediscovering of a national musical tradition.”

Here are some of Quilty’s photos.

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/all photos  © Andrew Quilty/

For more on this project, go to Agence VU.

For more on Quilty and his work, visit his official website.

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Afghanistan, art of resistance

Afghan Star.

Afghan Star (2009) is a documentary (directed by Havana Marking) about the Afghan Star musical contest programme (modeled on the UK’s Pop Idol). It is a story about the power of music and the great risks Afghan people go through to appear on the show. The show is extremely popular although the government tried to ban it several times, and people are often “advised” by the radicals not to watch it or support it in any way.  In Afghanistan, singing represents much more – it is an expression of freedom, a brave one.

The documentary follows the 2008 contest when it’s down to nine contestants, and focuses on two women, Setara and Lema, and two men, Hameed and Rafi. The focus is on women in particular, Satara who sings with emotion and includes dance in her final performance, an action that puts her life in danger; Lema who is traditional, but her very appearance brings death threats.  Another important aspect is that the three finalists are from different tribes, and each makes a plea for Afghan unity. Through singing in the show they get to meet each other and stop looking at themselves as “others”, but appreciate every person as a human being, as an artist.

I highly recommend this documentary, and here are some of the snaphots I made, to get you to dig deeper.

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 For more on the movie, go to IMDb.

For more on the Afghan Star programme (it is still on), visit their official website and check out the Season 9 TOP 3 Elimination (2014).

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Afghanistan, art of resistance, travel

A whole new (look at) Afghanistan.

Riverboom Ltd is a society founded by war reporters upon a moonless night in the North-West of Afghanistan, in an infamous valley infested by wolfs, bandits and runaway Taliban. This is the valley where the river Boom flows. Ever since Riverboom has been operating for world peace from its headquarters in Vevey, Switzerland, on the shores of the placid lake Leman.

The Riverbooms are photographers, film directors, graphic artists, journalists and writers. Riverboom publishes (among other things) a series of illustrated books in the collection Baechtold’s Best. These are guidebooks entirely made of images for uncommon destinations like the North Pole, Afghanistan or Louvreland.

As they say:

The world revealed in series: ten options, one best. Images replace detailed descriptions and long-winded local histories.
It will arouse the curiosity of intrepid explorers and provide them with a whole new travel experience.

Here are some of the photos from their Baechtold’s Best – Afghanistan series.

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BB_AF_WEB_28all images © Riverboom

For more on this project and other works by Riverboom, visit their official website.

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