Peer-to-Peer Artmaking with Afghan Students

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This school year, students from MICA and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, collaborated with students in Kabul, Afghanistan, through a series of workshops utilizing video chats and conferencing, as well as other online resources, to foster a creative exchange that transcends geographic and cultural bounds.

The two groups have teamed up for Translocal Art-Making: Holding a Faraway Camera, a project with the goal of investigating the nature of artmaking through virtual communication and the roles language, culture, technology, and location play in the development of artistic styles and dialogues. The project is guided by MICA faculty member Susan Main and Rahraw Omarzad, director of the Center for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan in Kabul.

Working solely through virtual communication, participants have developed joint art projects using a mixture of digital media-photographs, video, and sound-as well as more traditional mediums, including paintings, drawings, and performances.

“Learning what digital media feels like as a material, understanding the limits and powers of virtual artistic collaboration, and learning to extend socializing into artmaking via technology are what these students are grappling with conceptually, poetically, and politically,” Main explained.

Although it seems language barriers could pose a problem, class mentor Alex D’Agostino ’09 (painting) said it is a non-issue. “Art seems to be able to reach beyond spoken language. Having to avoid fancy ‘art talk’ makes sharing ideas more genuine and pure. It’s beautiful,” D’Agostino said.

Besides the art being created, Main sees how Afghanistan has become a less abstract place for those involved in the project.

“The perception they have from the media is shifting away from negative or generalized images to positive, specific ones,” she said. “What unites them is artmaking and the ordinary, everyday of being human.”

D’Agostino agrees. “With all the social conflicts and cultural associations with countries like Afghanistan, it’s beautiful to move beyond and dive into art,” he said. “People are people all over the world, moving through life. It’s easy to get caught up in the politics of difference and forget the human aspect.”

Foundation student Ka Yeoun (May) Kim ’16 (painting) said everyone working on the project-both Americans and Afghans-is dedicated, driven, and hardworking. “We’ve been through a lot, including forcing ourselves to wake up at 5 or 6 am so we can talk to the students in Afghanistan,” she said. “I feel like this collaboration helped me in so many ways to become open-minded as an artist.”