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AFGHAN DIALOGS

These embroidery works are conceived as dialog between me and a community of Paschtun and Urdu speakers living in the tribal areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan, between Jalalabad and Peshawar. I started this work during the days of the post-9/11 war with Afghanistan when US networks were filled with reports on this regional conflict. US news footage is always labeled, branded, copyrighted and layered with additional information and running texts with headline news creating sometimes ironic and even cynical effects. This is in particular the case when news about casualties and bombings face sports or business numbers or entertainment gossip. I started to photograph these reports in order to create “My Own Private War Archive,” for an online slide show: http://www.ganahl.info/wararchive.html. I soon became more interested in the logos, texts, titles and headlines framing these images which I began to isolate: NEXT TARGET, LIVE, BREAKING NEWS, AMERICA FIGHTS BACK, FIELD OF BAD DREAMS, MARINES GO TO WORK, CAMP OUT, CNN, FOX NEWS, MSNBC etc.

Seeing Afghanistan bombed, I remembered that Afghani and Pakistani embroiderers added their own radical comments to the larger pieces of Alighiero Boetti. For example, on one piece by Boetti it says: “The Afghani people consist mainly of Muslims. Their Holy Book is called the Koran. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for their Holy belief and home. For this reason they have embarked on the Holy War and will persist until the last drop of the blood of their life’s energy has been spent” (p. 256, Alighiero Boetti: Mettere al mondo il mondo, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, 1998) These squeezed in political writing in Pashto inspired me to initiate my dialog. I decided to take these interface elements from US media coverage and ask Afghani people to write down their own comments on them. The idea for my embroidery works was born. The rest was logistics and waiting and waiting for results to come.

The idea of creating a platform for victimized people to “write back”, to say something in return has become for me a meaningful way to create art. In addition I hope it can help some of the people I work with in as far as they get paid for their work and can express their opinion about the aggression of USA military and its allies. I pay them in cash whatever they ask me to pay. Working issues are very important to me. I ask them to address it in their writings as well. I also ask them not to let children work on these embroideries though I have no way to control it.

The logistics for these works has been complicated so far. I am dependent on a Diaspora Pashtun-community here in New York that periodically travels back and forth to and from Peshawar. Restricted immigration rules make it now very difficult for Southeast Asians to enter the USA. Through these visits my printouts, my money, my explanations and the embroideries exchange and travel. In the beginning, the explanations hadn’t completely reached the embroiderers and no comments came back. Now, comments come back. On some of these works already new side remarks are added: A praying hand is embroidered on the margin outside the embroidered field. I see in this a personal message by the embroiderers and am glad about it. I hope that a personal trip of mine with some of the Paschtun people to the tribal areas this spring or summer - if political circumstances allow it – will facilitate this dialog even more. My experience with this community here in New York is very good and I can’t wait to see and learn more about their culture.

This new work of mine has completely captured my imagination: I have started to study Arabic (“My Firsts 500 Hours Basic Arabic”), - the first step before studying Pashto – and I have extended this dialog project in another medium to another area, notably the “next target” – Iraq.

Rainer Ganahl, www.ganahl.info, New York February 2003

 

PS: here are some of the comments sent back to me on different embroidery works:
NEXT TARGET: Attack on Afghanistan is just a lame excuse to occupy Asia.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: If America wants to be sincere in dealing with tahe world it should leave all ports and airports through the world.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: Are the UN resolutions only made for Muslim countries?
AMERICA STRIKES BACK: Islam is a peaceful religion.
NEXT TARGET: In this world Islam preaches peace.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: For self and others alike Islam teaches peace.
AMERICA STRIKES BACK: There is always a Moses for a Pharaoh in every period of history.
NEXT TARGET: G8 members should make their decisions wisely.
LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: The life of Pharaoh is a lesson for the world till doomsday

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS:
America should see the disastrous end of previous empires.
AMERICA STRIKES BACK:
America should shoulder its responsibility.