Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2010
Cultures unite in 'Indiana in Afghanistan; Afghanistan in Indiana' exhibit at IU's Wells Library
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 26, 2010
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- When an international writer teamed up with a museum curator, the eclectic pair worked to forge an artistic tie between a peaceful, agriculturally focused state and a war-torn Middle Eastern country -- and the result created beauty through contrast, they said.
"Indiana in Afghanistan; Afghanistan in Indiana," a cultural exhibit currently on display in Indiana University's Herman B Wells Library lobby (through Sep. 24), features an assortment of photographs shot by journalist Douglas Wissing among a collection of historic Afghan items procured from campus collections by Lilly Library curator Jim Canary.
The exhibit illustrates Indiana's longstanding, ongoing relationship with this complex central-Asian nation through photographs of Hoosiers in Afghanistan, from Chancellor Herman B Wells' 1966 Kabul trip to the Indiana National Guard Agribusiness Development Team's 2009 deployment to war-torn Khost Province. The exhibit also documents IU's long Afghanistan relationship through Afghan objects, manuscripts, books, audio and ephemera from Lilly Library, Mathers Museum, University Archives and Archives of Traditional Music.
Wissing and Canary will host a short discussion about the exhibit in the Wells Library lobby at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 27.
Wissing is an award-winning journalist who has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other high-profile publications. He journeyed to Afghanistan and embedded himself with Hoosier troops to capture foreign scenes and bring them home to open people's eyes, expand perceptions and show America's role in another world.
"It's all story-telling," he said. "I wanted to capture the challenges these soldiers face in Afghanistan as they tried to carry out their agricultural development mission, and also to depict the courage and dignity of the Afghan people."
While Wissing was overseas -- he reported for 10 weeks in 2009 -- he said typical days ranged from fascinating to unpredictable to intensely dangerous. He moved from town to town surrounded by the Indiana National Guard Agribusiness Development Team, an elite group of farmer-soldiers attempting to help Afghan farmers in the insurgency-wracked Khost Province.
"As I was covering soldiers in the active eastern Afghanistan war zone, I had to also cope with the realities of conflict," he said. "I was in Taliban-controlled areas where our convoys hit IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices]. Ambushes were a constant concern, and Forward Operating Base Salerno -- the base on the border with the Pakistani tribal regions where I spent most of my time -- suffered so many attacks its nickname is 'Rocket City.'"
The physical realities of the expedition also posed obstacles.
"As part of the gig, I needed to purchase my own body armor and helmet to be out in the field with the soldiers," he said. "Doing interviews wearing 50 pounds of body armor while climbing Afghan mountains in 120 degree heat is challenging."
Wissing returned to Indiana with an array of emotionally charged photos and a desire to share what he'd seen. "Indiana in Afghanistan" features 21 of his images, including Americans and Afghans sharing shade under a tree, American soldiers braving adversity and Afghan adults and children peering curiously into his lens.
Canary, head conservator at the Lilly Library, compiled Middle Eastern relics found in the university's Mathers Museum, Lilly Library and Archives of Traditional Music to find complementary pieces to Wissing's photo display.
Items in the "extraordinary trove of Afghan materials," as Wissing describes it, include antique musical instruments, jewelry, weaponry and a decades-old snapshot of Herman B Wells wearing a fez in Kabul.
"The Afghanistan exhibit offers a glimpse into some good things happening in Afghanistan because of people taking an interest," Canary said. "The more we know about a people and their culture, the more we can interact in ways other than violence."
Canary said planning for the dual collections began just over a year ago. He sifted through collections, conducted research and stumbled upon surprises along the way.
"I had no idea that Herman B Wells had gone to Afghanistan in 1966," he said of the former IU president known for encouraging overseas study and for an interest in international relations. "We joked about finding a photo of Herman on a camel. That became the standard line whenever we revisited the exhibit: 'Well did you find the one with Herman and the camel?'"