Afghan Artists Shine on World Stage

February 26, 2013
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Afghan Analytica Opinion –

Oscar-nominated film Buzkashi Boys did not win an Academy Award Sunday night in the Best Live Action Short Film category, but young amateur actors Jawanmard Paiz and Fawad Mohammadi, along with the film’s director, Sam French, and Afghan-American producer, Ariel Nasr, made history and deserve high tribute for capturing the special nomination. Not only did they walk the red carpet, but they also made good use of their visit to the US to speak about change, hope and fear in their country.

They join several other artists of Afghan origin who have made headlines over the past year, or have been recognized on the global stage for their talent and creativity. However, to the extent that Afghan artists have made gains over the last decade, they also face several types of challenges in the transitional years ahead.

Among the most accomplished of Afghan artists is Atiq Rahimi, author and film director based in France, for his Prix Goncourt-winning book and movie Sange Sabour (the patience stone). Rahimi made history in 2008 when he won France’s most prestigious literary award. Portraying gender complexities in the Afghan war setting, Rahimi recently told Newsweek, “When I go to Afghanistan, I meet women of extraordinary might. They have a presence, socially, politically, culturally speaking.” Challenging social taboos, Rahimi said, “It was important to me for men to know how women suffer, dream, feel, and desire.”

Another filmmaker, Barmak Akram, made history at the Sundance Film Festival this year, when his film Wajhma (an Afghan Love Story), shot entirely in Afghanistan, won the Screenwriting Award World Cinema Dramatic at the festival in Park City, Utah. The movie successfully treats the contradictions of modern life in Kabul. Akram depicts in documentary reality style the perils of love and relationships when faced with tradition and societal expectations.

On the musical stage, Omar Akram (no relations to Barmak) received a prestigious Grammy Award for Best New Age Album at the music industry’s most important award ceremony. Akram’s album, Echoes of Love, reflects a personal journey that touches the soul and is inspired by Eastern, Western and Latin musical traditions. As a pianist and composer, his achievement is bound to encourage many young Afghans who are musically inclined. Upon hearing of his nomination, Akram said: “Our first album came out in 2002… So here we are being nominated, finally being recognized for something that we have worked so hard on. It’s very exciting.”

Ariana Delawari is already a role-model for the younger generation. The Afghan-American musician and multi-media artist has been recognized for her artistic creativity. Her original works feature a blend of Western and Afghan music and reflect her deep emotional attachment to her ancestry. Her most well-known album, Lion of Panjshir, was produced by movie director David Lynch. Her documentary We Came Home won an International Jury Award at the Sao Paolo Film Festival in 2011.

Last but not least, more than two dozen students, the majority of them selected from orphanages by Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music took the US by storm when they performed in February to packed audiences at the Kennedy Center in Washington and Carnegie Hall in New York. Their concert included selections of traditional Afghan and Indian music, and a recasting of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons by William Harvey using traditional instruments. The young men and women who are part of this orchestra will be heading back to Afghanistan with a new worldview and priceless memories.

As in sports and academia, the artists mentioned above and many more who are striving to do the best possible under the circumstances in their respective fields, are positive role models in a society where they are sorely lacking.

Afghans, like many other nationalities, have and continue to show that there is no limit to creativity and high-level artistic achievement. These unprecedented accomplishments witnessed over the past year were made possible by personal drive, political, social and artistic freedom, empowerment and mobility. Civil society activity, in media in particular, has acted as an engine of change and new thinking in Afghanistan.

These rights and freedoms face challenges from governmental manipulation and the excesses associated with radicalized and oppressive mindsets. It is evident that Afghan tradition does not negate or dismiss art as part of human life as long as it is not destructive or demeaning.

It will be necessary to protect and support this sector as Afghanistan goes through political, security, economic and social transition over the next few years. It is mainly a responsibility for Afghans to protect and support, but there is still a need for international engagement to stand by these efforts.

The Afghan government is also slowly realizing that it cannot ignore the under-current of change. Ruling circles realize that these accomplishments are intrinsically tied to national sovereignty and pride. The best option is for partisan politics to avoid manipulation and to allow these natural talents to flourish and carve their own path. Not only do these artists and agents for change provide a counter-image to the narrative expressed by cynics and spoilers, but they also are a source of pride today and hope for the future.

We congratulate all of them for their accomplishments.

Nader Naderi on transition in 2014

Light News Bites

• Days before a planned visit by President Karzai to Islamabad, Afghan and Pakistani national soccer teams met for a match in Kabul—their first such contest in 37 years. A capacity crowd of around 7,000 filled the stadium amid heavy security. The Afghan side's 3-0 victory touched off a raucous street celebration, boosting Afghan national pride as foreign forces withdraw, international aid dries up and the Pakistani-backed insurgency keeps up its attacks. (WSJ)
At the sentencing hearing of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, Haji Mohammed Naim, 60, from the village where Bales killed 16 civilians in March 2012 testified: "That bastard stood right in front of me, I wanted to ask him: 'What did I do? What have I done to you?'" A jury will decide whether Bales will get life in prison or be eligible for parole. His guilty plea in June means Bales won't face the death penalty. (Newswires)
• On August 8th the Afghan Air Force (AAF) conducted its first independent air assault operation. In the past AAF helicopters were part of larger NATO air operations and under NATO command. Operating from Jalalabad airfield, over a dozen AAF helicopters (Mi-17 armed transports and Mi-35 gunships) worked with a brigade of Afghan infantry to clear two districts under the Taliban rule.. (Strategy Page)
• A music concert organized last week in Afghanistan’s central Bamyan province to mark International Youth Day drew an audience of thousands from all over the country. Masoud Hassanzada, singer for the rock band ‘Morcha’ said: “We perform rock music is a new way… but people understand our messages. The poetry we use is about the daily life of Afghans, social issues and politics.” He added: “I think no political process can be successful without cultural support.” (UNAMA)
• Afghan Attorney-General Muhammad Isaaq Aloko has kept his job despite a decision by an angry President Hamid Karzai to sack him over an unauthorized approach to the Taliban. Aleko denies the claim. (Reuters)