Building bridges using art

I was wrapping up my interview with Adeena Niazi when I asked her, “What should the world know about Afghan women?”

Adeena replied:

“Anyone concerned with helping Afghan women must educate themselves about the reality of Afghanistan. They must distinguish between urban myth and the truth by talking to Afghan women and working closely with them.”

It was only a few days later that I found out about Artfully Unforgotten, an advocacy-driven NGO based in New York City that develops resources for vulnerable communities worldwide. The organization’s founder and Executive Director, Heather Metcalfe, has raised funds for Afghan women since October 2007.

Through art exhibits and theatre, Heather delivers the colourful and insightful stories of individuals from across the Afghan social spectrum. They maintain their dignity and Heather employs accuracy. By doing so, Heather bridges gaps between her North American audiences and the burka-clad women seen on the 6 o’clock news.

Heather’s current project, Voices of Afghanistan, showcases photographs and her interviews with the women, men and children of Mazar-i-Sharif and Maimana, Afghanistan from June 2009. Since then she has used her collection of stories and video footage to create a short film and coffee table book–I need to get more copies, pronto!

Heather isn’t simply advocating on behalf of women and children, she’s doing something that has become disappointingly rare in today’s journalism: she’slistening. It is only by listening to the people Heather meets that her audience hears the real voices of Afghanistan.

Ultimately, Heather incorporates the investigative essence of journalism with the accessibility of art. Her stories discuss conflict, culture and hope. Both men and women share their thoughts on the future of their country.

What the reader is eventually left with is a striking portrait of the astounding resilience and courage that exists among the Afghan people.

Coincidentally, my last question to Adeena addressed the portrayal of Afghan women in the media. This is what she said:

“The western media focuses only on the veil–Afghan women are very resilient and they have worked hard, especially during Taliban rule and during war. There were women who pursued education and organized the mobility of education. They’re really strong; they are survivors.”

Similarly, after her trip Heather wrote about her experiences and she said:

“I did not find one woman who perceived herself to be a victim.”

Artfully Unforgotten‘s book and video conveys to the public why the people of Afghanistan are most deserving of their support: they are eager for a brighter future and they are dedicated to rebuilding.

For video footage check out:

More information about Adeena Niazi and the Toronto-based refugee settlement agency she founded (Afghan Women’s Organization) will be available in McClung’s magazine’s upcoming spring 2011 issue.


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