La creatività è lo strumento per sopravvivere in un Paese distrutto dalla guerra. È una strategia di sovversione politica e il mezzo per preservare il passato. Lo raccontano, in Afghanistan, le pratiche di artisti come Rahim Walizada e Aman Mojadidi, ma anche l’attività di centri culturali e iniziative artistiche locali

Creativity is one way to survive in a war-torn country. In the hands of artists such as Rahim Walizada and Aman Mojadidi, as well as in the work of cultural centres and local artistic initiatives in Afghanistan, creativity becomes a strategy for political subversion and a means to preserve the past

Hanging over Kabul are the consequences of a lingering war, with the risk of its abstract and pervasive atmosphere erasing and smudging the contours of everything else. But what about the people living in a country at war—the ones who are not numbered among the killed or wounded in terrorist attacks or intelligent missile strikes? What about their thoughts and emotions, their expressive urge to carry on imagining and dreaming?

Luckily, life in Kabul continues despite the conflict, and the struggle to maintain a sense of normality is one of those stories that are rarely told by the press. A war-torn nation’s artistic output and creative experimentation offer one way of exploring these silent stories. They reveal the glimmer of a more positive side and help to reflect on human resilience and the capacity, despite everything, to preserve space for thought and hope. This can be seen in Kabul, if only one digs beneath the surface of its rubble. The city’s creative scene is still in an embryonic stage, however it is beginning to move in many different directions, where “culture” and creative practices make it possible to design or imagine alternative ways to the future.

Culture and creative practices are two sides of the same coin, providing tools to interpret the roles played in a complex geopolitical scene. In that context, ideas about cultural heritage, contemporary art and creativity assume a relevance beyond plain aesthetics. International investments in culture (from archaeology to crafts and support for young artists) are an indirect and extremely interesting way to aid the reconstruction of a country, consolidating the present as well as rethinking the foundations for the future. It is no coincidence that France, Britain and the us, along with Italy and Germany, are the countries with the largest numbers of troops in the isaf (International Security Assistance Force) and are also the most systematic and consistent investors in Afghanistan’s economic and cultural “reconstruction”. Achieving democracy has a cost, as do the efforts to protect “tradition” and sort out the immensely complicated puzzle of Afghanistan’s past. Initiatives of this kind run parallel to the exportation of democracy, military campaigns, and “hints” on how to reconsider the past, as well as the support and promotion of cultural expressions that have been jeopardised by years of oppression and conflict. Leaving aside the obsessive search for hidden agendas or simplistic conspiracy theories, observation of the meta-political dynamics of cultural intervention raises questions about the directions that international powers intend to encourage and the underlying motivations for such investments.

No one could be better placed than Aman Mojadidi (www.wearyourrespirator.com) to disentangle the connections, contradictions and interdependencies between politics and culture. A day of dazzling sunlight and a gangsta rap soundtrack provided the background to our meeting with Mojadidi in his studio in Kabul, where he has lived since 2004 after growing up in the United States. Mojadidi is a sarcastic and debunking artist whose work springs from a combination of ethno-anthropological studies, do-it-yourself and the aesthetics of found objects. Together with a good measure of (self-) irony, this combination prompts him to say that his art successfully captures the worst of the two worlds to which he belongs. In no uncertain terms, Mojadidi declares that a careful examination of the Afghan situation reveals that the former colonial powers are today dressed in the clothes of financiers and humanitarian agencies vowed to development. He denounces what he defines as a “conflict chic” tendency whereby war zones, for miscellaneous artists and cultural activists, offer a source of inspiration and a possible route to fame. With a hit-and-run attitude, these artists pounce to take home ideas and adventures, leaving behind nothing but another scar, yet another sign of exploitation. Aman Mojadidi sees creative practices as a means to participate in the political debate through the oblique languages of irony and bewilderment. The internal violence and corruption that undermine the foundations of a country in a process of transformation occupy a pivotal position in the development of his work. Conflict Bling (2009) and the mock campaign of a Jihadi Gangster during the parliamentary elections of 2010 are two examples of the mixture of political and cultural provocation which, with wry laughter, stimulate the necessity for discussion regarding the possible futures of Afghanistan beyond international intervention.

Situated in an altogether different area is the work of Rahim Walizada (www.chukpalu.com), an artist and designer for whom the attainment of beauty embodies both the reason and the necessity for producing art. Walizada comes from three generations of craftspersons and antique dealers. An appreciation of the nature of materials is inherent to his outlook on the world. His work acquires its form and substance from beyond, or Culture and Civil Society, maintains that, against the evidence of military operations, one of the values that creative practices can construct is also that of democracy. The foundation was set up in 2003 for the purpose of educating the population (with a 43 per cent male, and 12.6 per cent female literacy rate) in the civic practices of political engagement through the visual languages and instruments of art. Cinema and strolling theatre, strip-pamphlets and storytelling, public discussions and information stalls are the foundation’s means to rebuild democracy from its grass roots, in step with the people, not with politico-military negotiations. Timor Hakimyar is convinced that art and creative practices are vital to the struggle against obscurantism and essential for the construction of civic and democratic values. In its everyday activities, which proceed without the support of major international financing, the Foundation for Culture and Civil Society exploits art as a potent instrument of social change, pitting time and dedication against the presumption of rapid solutions promised in vain by military politics and invasion.

Kabul’s artistic microcosm lives and thrives beneath the surface of a proclaimed cultural rebirth, of the declarations of a past discovered and rediscovered to build the future, and of the large-scale international financings that dictate the processes of artistic practices. When observed, it exposes a multiplicity of forms and movements, whose autonomous and lively thinking reckons with the hardness of the geopolitical situation, struggling to preserve the dignity and independence of its own forms of expression.

Kabul’s artistic microcosm lives and thrives beneath the surface of a proclaimed cultural rebirth, of the declarations of a past discovered and rediscovered to build the future, and of the large-scale international financings that dictate the processes of artistic practices. When observed, it exposes a multiplicity of forms and movements, whose autonomous and lively thinking reckons with the hardness of the geopolitical situation, struggling to preserve the dignity and independence of its own forms of expression.