Grant to garner Afghan art in war

Afghan children are raised in a third generation of war, but national culture and art still grow. Above their heads, an inscription reads ‘freedom.’ (AP Photo)

After being awarded a $10,700 grant from the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, the College will present an artistic and cultural project to the public entitled “Art Amongst War: Visual Culture in Afghanistan, 1979-2014.”

With funding going to the Art Gallery and the department of Art and Art History, the College will introduce a series of programs and interdisciplinary exhibitions evocative of Afghan life amidst the seemingly ceaseless marathon of war in the country.

The upcoming 2014 school year marks the 35th anniversary of modern conflict in Afghanistan, beginning with the Soviet invasion in 1979 and subsequent rise of the Taliban. Depictions of violence and desolation are prevalent, particularly in Western media coverage of post-9/11 counterterrorism efforts. But rarely is the more human element to Afghanistan’s struggle elicited truthfully.

Just as National Geographic’s “Afghan Girl” opened the world to life inside war, the College’s grant aims to uncover more of the country’s cultural reality. The exhibition asks two key questions: namely, “What has 35 years of war done to the culture of Afghanistan, and how do people employ culture to respond to the traumas of war?”

Associate professor of Art History Deborah Hutton has some insight on these questions. As a developer of the project and curator of the art exhibition, Hutton will present the opening program, “Beyond the Images of the Evening News: Afghanistan’s Visual Culture in Context.”

While this precedes the exhibition’s opening on March 5, the program will begin to explore angles of Afghan life often overshadowed.

“The artwork we will exhibit is all by Afghan or Afghan-American artists, and we will be showing not only contemporary, avant-garde artworks, but also photojournalistic images of life in Afghanistan,” Hutton said. “Photography was outlawed by the Taliban, but in the last decade or so, a new generation of photographers has become quite active — many of whom are in their mid-20’s and just a bit older than most TCNJ students.”

From there, several programs will build upon an exposure to Afghan culture from various angles. “History of Histories: Afghan Films, 1969-Present,” for example, will showcase a compilation of both fictional and factual videos organized by artist Mariam Ghani.

Elsewhere, another presentation will highlight how young Afghan boys and girls can be empowered through skateboarding by the non-governmental organization “Skateistan.”

These exhibitions and programs are being developed by Hutton and director of the Art Gallery Emily Croll in preparation for the unveiling in March. Yet, a cadre of the College’s staff and professors are also assisting in their advisory.

The New Jersey Council for the Humanities — the provider of the grant — aims to “support and promote projects that explore and interpret the human experience (and) foster cross-cultural understanding,” among others, according to the School of Arts & Communications website.

Moreover, Hutton is hopeful that these goals can be fulfilled for viewers.

“I hope that (the project) will get people to appreciate the rich culture and history of Afghanistan,” Hutton said. “To see that it isn’t just a dusty, cold, broken place of war, but a place with a long history and rich culture, a place that is changing quickly and filled with young people who aren’t just helpless victims or uneducated warlords, but who are smart, creative and working hard under difficult circumstances to make their country better.”