Like most people, I didn't realize that there was a burgeoning art movement in Afghanistan until it recently appeared in my Facebook feed. Colorful street art images of guerrilla rebels throwing a heart rather than a grenade, and machine guns with rainbow cartridges began to regularly appear in my daily feed as friend and artist Yazmany Arboleda captured mesmerizing shots of art -- and everyday life -- in Kabul last month as part of his Monday Morning series.
Trained as an architect and an artist, Arboleda became an advocate for activating art and collaborative culture around the world through balloons after envisioning that everyday working people could become part of a living sculpture. After founding his studio, Glassless Glasses Studio (an art activation collaborative based in New York City), Arboleda set off to disrupt the monday morning commute of travelers in Bangalore, Nairobi, and Yamaguchi by handing out 10,000 bio-degradable bright balloons, creating a living sculpture that brought about joy, wonderment and a new sense of awareness to people. The sole request to the people who received the balloons was that they hold onto them until they reach their place of work. They were asked to tie the balloon to a nearby object so that it can remind them of the whimsy of life throughout their day.
Arboleda sees the Kabul edition, his newest Monday Morning series, as having an additional purpose -- an international gesture of hope when over 130 volunteers will distribute 10,000 hot pink balloons to unexpecting Kabul commuters on a Saturday morning (Saturday is the beginning of the work week in Afghanistan). "For decades now, whether during the Soviet Occupation, the Civil War or the Taliban Regime, the Afghan people have been subject to continuous conflict and oppression," Arboleda explained. "As a result, Afghanistan has been starved economically, socially and culturally." This installation not only commemorates the Afghan struggle, but honors the artistic community that is beginning to flourish in the war torn country.
The "We Believe in Balloons" online campaign has been created in 14 languages, including Dari, Japanese, Swahili, Pashto, French and Spanish, thanks to the support of hundreds of volunteers around the world. Arboleda considers it important that each supporter only be able to give a single dollar -- a direct link to one balloon -- to create a symbolic connection from one person to another. "These people represent a community of individuals who believe in the power of art and culture and peace as a way of moving forward-- not war," Arboleda told me. (He also excitedly added that this is the first ever crowd funding campaign in which the maximum amount that any one person can give is a dollar).
Working with local arts collectives, cultural organizations and artists in Kabul, Arboleda will hand out the hot pink balloons on an undisclosed (for security) date this coming spring. Thousands of hand-to-hand exchanges will weave a living tapestry, creating a stream of shared instances of unexpected happiness. The project will conclude with a mural of all 10,000 donors smiling that will be printed on a large banner that will be exhibited in Kabul. The majority of the funds raised will go to a month long program that includes lectures, workshops and panel discussions around subjects like urban identity and the role of women in public space.
Asked about the significance of the Monday Morning series, Arboleda paused for a moment and said, "it's an exploration of the boundaries of contemporary art using living materials. This installation challenges how we think about art: who creates it, who owns it and who is it for?" All important questions when considering the cultural revival of a country.