April 29, 2015

A Portal to Afghanistan: Communities Connected through Art Installation

A painted shipping container sat conspicuously on N Street NW, a couple of blocks away from Georgetown’s front gates.

Created by artist Amar C. Bakshi and his collective, Shared Studios, the golden box served as a location for one-on-one conversations between individuals on different sides of the globe.

Since December 2014, Bakshi’s "portals" have connected more than 1,000 people in Tehran, New York, and New Haven.

In April 2015, the portal came to Washington, D.C. to connect the Georgetown community with artists, students, and citizens in Herat, Afghanistan.

Personal Conversations

Stepping into the portal, Shannon Galvin (SFS’15) found herself face-to-face with Zobair Mirjani, a first-year medical student at Hariwa University in Herat. The portal’s immersive audio and video technology made it appear as if the two were standing in the same room.

For the next 15 minutes, Galvin and Mirjani talked about their interests, life at their respective universities, and Afghani perceptions of the United States.

“There should be more opportunities to have a conversation, face-to-face, with someone else on the other side of the globe,” Galvin said. “We would all understand each other a lot better.”

From April 7 to 22, over 130 such conversations took place through the D.C.-Herat portal.

The Lab

Georgetown University’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics played a central role in bringing a portal to the Georgetown neighborhood.

Housed in the Davis Performing Arts Center, the Lab aims to raise voices rarely heard in Washington, D.C.

“In the wake of the recent visit of President Ashraf Ghani, this portal provides a unique opportunity to speak directly with Afghan people to find out how they feel about their personal and national futures,” said Ambassador Cynthia Schneider, co-director of the Lab.

The portal was presented as part of the world premiere of Generation (Wh)Y: Global Voices on Stage on April 17 and 18.

In collaboration with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Bridges of Understanding, and the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, the immersive theatrical production was the result of a year-long dialogue between Georgetown students and youth from Egypt, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Qatar, and Iraq, among other countries.

“The portals project is such a beautiful fit with our Generation (Wh)Y project,” says Lab Co-Director Professor Derek Goldman.

“It privileges the power of one-to-one personal communication that is at the heart of this initiative, the potential for us to find real meaning and connection, to develop shared understandings and relationships, and to have our perceptions transformed through humanizing encounters with those around the world,” he added.

In June, a new portal will connect Woodrow Wilson Plaza in Washington, D.C., with downtown Havana, Cuba. Future plans for portals include Nashville, Beirut, Monrovia, Detroit, Durban, and Karachi.

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