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Photos > AFGHANISTAN: Art Comes to Istalif

On October 26 we premiered the Streets of Afghanistan exhibition in the village of Istalif, a remote village in the Shomali Plain north of Kabul. Four years ago, I envisioned a collaborative photography exhibition between Afghan photographers and Western photographers that had deep affection for this country. Instead of a gallery show, I imagined surrounding the viewer in the image to bring the art off the wall, and into the viewers world. I wanted to see people’s reaction as they interacted with lifesize images and hoped that it would change American perspectives of Afghanistan—that if we saw it as a country with a beautiful spirit and culture that we would be more invested in it from a humanitarian perspective. More

I saw that vision come full circle as we brought the exhibition TO Afghanistan, among Afghans themselves to surround them with the beauty and spirit of their country and communities. 28 photographs lined the market streets outside of the mosque on the first day of Eid in the village of Istalif and the reaction was nothing short of amazing.

Setting up the exhibition itself was an enormous task. It takes two people to assemble each image in the dusty streets. It takes a lot of muscle and stamina to move the exhibition into place, and alot of ingenuity to keep them in place on 4×4 worthy roads. Luckily our team has that in spades.

Many people expressed their doubt about the feasibility of pulling this off in a country like Afghanistan. Many more questioned the value of taking such a risk for ‘art’. Would Afghans understand it? What’s the point of doing this in a war zone? It’s not worth the risk. What that really means is that they think Afghans aren’t worth the risk. That because this is a country fraught with conflict and poverty that art doesn’t have much importance. I disagree. I think art is all the more important here.

So when I was asked, often, “Is it worth it?”

HELL yes. Beyond a doubt it’s worth it.

Seeing men smile and laugh while pointing at the paintings and talk animatedly with each other, and to have old men in elaborate turbaned and ancient faces tell me “thank you” in halting English makes me prouder than anything I have ever done in this country.

We watched little girls come by and touch the images, interact and smile and laugh with us. We watched young boys look at a photo of a busy Kabul street for 20 minutes as though they were right there – never having been there themselves.

More importantly… we were treated with honor and grace from the entire village that treated us as their guests. Invited to lunch, for tea, and had multiple offers to spend the night with their families. The same response I have been beyond blessed to experience in many other Afghan villages. Proving time and time again, that ‘Hell yes. It’s SO worth it.” I’m honored to bring this show to Afghanistan. I’m honored to showcase another side of Afghanistan back home. Yeah, it’s worth it.

In 2008 Mountain2Mountain launched the Streets of Afghanistan project, facilitating a collaboration of Afghan and Western photographers to document Afghan life through the rarely seen Afghan lens, immersing the viewer in the landscapes and faces of Afghanistan, transporting them directly into the culture and mindset of the country’s people. After touring the U.S. the exhibit of 29, 10×17 photographs now returns to the Afghan people. Follow along as we bring the exhibition back to Afghanistan.

SHANNON GALPIN (words): Fueled by her own experience with violence against women and inspired by becoming a mother, Shannon founded Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide education and opportunities to women in conflict zones. An avid mountain biker continually focused on breaking gender barriers, in 2009 she became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan, a country where the culture does not permit women to ride bikes. A TEDx speaker, she has been featured on Dateline NBC, Huffington Post, and Outside Magazine and is a subject in the documentary film series, MoveShake.

TONY DI ZINNO (images): From passion projects in Afghanistan to behind the scenes documentary films with racing heroes at the Indy 500, photographer Tony Di Zinno, is a self proclaimed photo sherpa. Di Zinno made his bones early in his career on Nike propaganda with print campaigns with the worlds most famous athletes in every category. This former competitive athlete turned concerned photographer makes his home nowadays near Venice, CA and when not on location working on assignment can be found at his old alma teaching as an adjunct professor of Photography and Imaging at his alma mater, the Art Center College of Design.