‘Streets of Afghanistan’ documents traveling street art exhibit; author will sign book at The Next Page in Frisco
If you go
What: Book signing with Shannon Galpin, founder of Mountain2Mountain and collaborator on ‘Streets of Afghanistan’
Where: The Next Page, 409 E. Main St., Frisco
When: 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16
Cost: Free; books will be available for sale, and the book publisher, Hatherleigh Press, has pledged to send 50 percent of the proceeds from book sales to Mountain2Mountain to help fund future projects
Five years ago, Shannon Galpin began working with women’s rights and youth activism in Afghanistan, traveling back and forth from her home in Breckenridge to the war-torn country 15 times and learning that the differences between there and home aren’t as great as we may believe.
“The experiences that I have had in Afghanistan, working there, have been more to highlight how much we have in common than how we are different,” she said. “Afghanistan and Colorado are both mountain communities, and there’s a lot of similarities in terms of what you see in the basis of what people want.”
The biggest project her work has produced to date is titled “Streets of Afghanistan,” a life-sized photography exhibition that was originally launched in Colorado. Galpin said soon after displaying the exhibit at the Denver Art Museum, she realized that these were Afghanistan’s images and she should take them back to their true home, an idea that met with some criticism.
‘no place to bring art’
“A lot of people assumed that Afghans wouldn’t know what to think of this art exhibition, that Afghanistan was no place to bring art — I even heard that from Afghans in America — which is an ignorant statement,” she said. “You don’t have to have a degree in art or be surrounded by art on a daily basis to be affected by art. Everybody can engage with art and with photography, and I think it has a very unique way of creating conversation and inspiring thought-provoking ideas and bringing communities together, especially street art.”
The exhibit traveled to four locations in the United States, including the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge, before being making the journey to Afghanistan last fall, where it traveled to nine different communities.
“It makes people talk in the street and interact with each other, and we saw that over and over in areas in Afghanistan,” Galpin said. “We would set up this life-size street art exhibition and sit back and let the locals engage. We were pulled into that engagement out of curiosity. Time and time again, I am struck by the fact that no matter where you are in the world, we are all similar, and art can bridge those cultural differences.
“The irony was I created this exhibition thinking that originally its main purpose would be to show it in the U.S. and showcase the beauty in the heartbreak of Afghanistan and change people’s perception of a country that is known for war and oppression and terrorism.”
Galpin wanted to document the process of art as activism with a behind the scenes look at the series of exhibitions, so she partnered with photographer Libero Di Zinno to create a book about the experience, also titled “Streets of Afghanistan.”
The book begins with the very first meeting Galpin held in Afghanistan with the Afghan photographers whose images would appear in the exhibition and continues through the creation of the exhibit and its brief stay in the U.S., including photos from its time in Breckenridge.
“Then it goes into bringing it to Afghanistan,” Galpin said. “Each of the exhibitions was radically different in how we set it up and the response of the locals. I brought a photographer with me to document this whole concept of pop-up street art, to document not only the exhibition, but the reaction of Afghans to it. It’s really about the power of art as activism and how art and photography connect communities and cultures, even in a war zone.”
Art as activism
“Streets of Afghanistan,” the book, explores how public art connects us through our common humanity and art’s place in Afghanistan today during this post-Taliban era, Galpin said.
“I see this huge space for art emerging, with modern art, graffiti art, modern music, modern musicians and rock musicians coming out of Afghanistan, a country that has never really had that,” she said. “Countries like Afghanistan deserve to be exposed to beauty and art just like everywhere else. Be reminded that this is a country that’s filled with amazing people who are living their lives against an incredibly difficult backdrop.”
The exhibition itself was recently donated to the national archive in Afghanistan, which will be its new permanent home, but the impact of the life-size photos can still be experienced through the book. Galpin said people in Summit County could connect to its message.
“We are a mountain community, and this was set up in mountain community halfway around the world,” she said. “This experience of street art, which is so ephemeral, it’s out and it’s gone the same day, and having a book that documents that highlights that hope is always more powerful than fear, images of hope and projects based in hope are always more powerful than fear.”
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