Issues & Analysis

Walk it out

Day 1 afternoon

Couldn’t keep my eyes open on the drive home from meeting at the National Solidarity Program with Jamshed. Pushed my self through till 9. Awake and anxious – mind in turmoil at 2:30am. Up at 4 and busied myself fixing Kevlar helmet and cleaning XLR cables and wondering why I am in a little room in Afghanistan cleaning XLR cables and tearing up foam padding to fix to the inside of a soldier’s helmet. Why? Got myself back on track: what is the role of economic development in war and conflict resolution and who should be doing it. Got it to make sense again. But the how is so stressed at this point in a project like this that you want to explode.

IT is surprising how quickly – in a matter of hours – intense  isolation dominates. The hotel is isolating – a bizarre but needed oasis. The room so small and while two walls are windows with good light one looks at a wall and one the glass covered hallway which means the heavy dank curtains must often be kept closed for privacy. Inside I have to work very hard not to let the closeness, floresentness, the darkness close in on cloud my mental state.

I inisisted on a walk at 6:45. I dressed up in my local garb – Kameez and Salwar- and headed out into the cool air and bright crisply clear morning. It is Friday morning, day of rest in Muslim countries, so the streets were relatively quiet at this time of day. I challenged myself that even if I only felt comfortable walking one block that I had to break out of this safe place. The hotel is built around a central sitting area – completely closed in on itself with heavy gates (the first with a large peace dove on it) double rolling doors, sand bagged guard houses for an entrance on a dirt side road.

The roads are everything one already knows from any other developing world city– at least asian. I could have just as well been walking down a street in Ahmedabad, India or Bandung, Indonesia – except with more ease. The streets are paved, the side streets rubble and dirt – all is very dry and dusty. The air, especially if there is a breeze is full of dust and sand. This morning it was calm and the air clean of dust and pollution. I was blessed to have streets with few people, few open shops and little traffic. I could walk calmly in the warm sun. People might look trying to place me but no one stared or discussed. The bakers were open – with their pit or large circular ovens, rounds of dough thrown onto the sides. One man crouchs around the hole and others work behind and beside crouching on carpets. The front has a window displaying stacks of bread with patterns and different shapes. A few tool shops, kiosks and benzine stores were open but most had the steel gates closed or rolled down. The filthy and dilapidated mall like buildings looked closed up. The walk was uneventful. I got to an opening near one of the several police checkpoints –where a few poorly uniformed and even more poorly shoed scruffy men with automatic riffles stop cars intermittently for pat downs and trunk checks. I can imagine after yesterday’s bombing there is more urgency to the task but it didn’t look it. Behind, the stone and gravel hills rise steeply coated in square buildings that rise up the ridges with black holes for windows. The top is covered with antennas and a control center of some sort. On the way back men streamed into the street with shovels headed to a construction site. At another corner four men got into a heated argument and then a flailing hair pulling kicking and punching fight. No question that the south asian temper and tension must only be exasperated by the decades of war, the current state of crisis and the brutal poverty.



Flight from Dubhai to Kabul: 176 turbaned, caped and hat’d Afghan traders, white guy with two Phillipino girls and me. Won $180 in the lottery on the flight! No food or drink but they do a lottery. First money earned on this project.

I arrived at the hotel sat down to breakfast and the windows blew open in front of me from the bomb blast at the Indian embassy.


MLK clearing my head in Atlanta

In the Atlanta airport in a drab hallway above an escalator there is a shockingly minimal kiosk about the life and beliefs of MLK. It is literally in the shadows and hard to see in relation to the radiant glow that comes from the stores and eateries – ‘the court’ – further on. How lowly our life at court has become.

It feels as if Atlanta is embarrassed by its history and the change brought by its great son. The signs of segregation – “whites only,” “blacks to the back of the bus” – are placed on the backside of the kiosk facing a too close wall. And Andrew Young, pictured with MLK, is the mayor of Atlanta!?

Nonetheless, I am grateful that it was there at all. I read it all and will take a quote from it as a question to the warriors and peace searchers in Afghanistan: “When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.”

What I find most interesting about the good and evil dichotomy here is that there are those in Afghanistan fighting foreign forces that believe they are good and the American’s to be the burners and bombers. Of course most on our side of the planet would read it and without question believe the Americans are on the side of good. What I get out of this, and what I treasure about this kiosk reminding me of the struggle for non-violence – is that it is the moderates in the middle that are the good, those on both sides of the planet who choose not to burn or bomb, who must find the way to stop the violence and build a sustainable path to peace.

I am going to Afghanistan to investigate whether an emphasis on economic opportunity and poverty alleviation is a viable path to peace. Would peace have been established if the $8000 spent per Afghan on US military activities in the last 9 years had been spent on a mission of economic stabilization? I go back to where I started: can a country that has been bombed repeatedly over thirty years be bombed into a peaceful state? Or, is a quieter long-term investment in the development of the economic and institutional capacity of the region the good person’s path to peace?

There it is – my mind working away in the plane trying to focus so as to be prepared for the onslaught of issues, views, subjects and situations that I am about to be confronted with.

Thank you very much for your card and wishes – “be safe and be calm” x10. I have placed the image pasted to it in my wallet. Did you know that there were postage stamps with Gandhi’s image in the little envelope and a flower?

I hope you are able to focus on your strengths and accomplishments. We must buoy ourselves with a positive determination and use that to propel us through the challenges. I am counting on you to show me the way as you have for all these years.

P.S. I am very happily listening to Rag Ahir Bhairav – slow gat in pupak tal fast gat in teental, Zakir Hussain & Hariprasad Chaurasia. Its fantastic depth and richness sooths the coldness of the airport world.


Teaching Great Students

The School – Bandung Institute of Technology

During the spring semester I was at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in the Faculty of Art and Design.

ITB, founded by the Dutch in the 1920s (hence the cross breeding of Dutch and Javanese architectural styles), is one of the best Universities in the country. It is proud to be home to Indonesia’s most prestigious department of art and design. With its reputation comes a highly selective undergraduate and graduate student body (60-100 art students selected from thousands of applicants each year) that is bright, accomplished and demanding. The faculty is made up of many of the nation’s most prominent artists and designers. The dedication, energy, intellect and talent of the student body are very impressive.

The Courses

In collaboration with the faculty from the fine arts and design departments I taught the first classes in video, sound and new media installation art, and documentary production.

The new media course included six undergraduates and six alumni from the departments of sculpture, print and painting. Twenty-five students from the multi-media department took the documentary course. All worked intensively to produce a well-received exhibition and to finish seven short documentary films.

Videosonic Art Course and Exhibition

The university is creating a department of Intermedia within the Fine Arts Faculty in 2008. The Videosonic Art course and exhibition of student work was conceived by Deden-Hendan Durahman as a way to launch this new venture. Deden is Head of the Graphic Art Studio at ITB and the force behind the Intermedia department. You can see some of his stunning work here.

The class reviewed the history of video, sound and new media installation art and engaged students in hands-on production. Students used a series of exercises to discover what they could do with these materials to expand their artistic expression. They explored the representation of personal and socially critical content through abstraction, metaphor, narrative and experiential immersion.

The day before the exhibition Deden and I were cursing ourselves for having suggested the idea of an exhibition. The gallery was a clutter of wires and materials that looked more like a storage room for discarded electronics than an intended art exhibition.

But, as usual, the students pulled a number of all-nighters and created the first student video and sound art exhibition at the university in the prestigious Soemardja Gallery. It was extremely well received by the university, faculty and local art community.

Here is a selection of the work from the exhibition and the semester:

Single channel videosonic art:

Excerpt from Video Star by Budi Adi Nugroho

Excerpt from Jihad Fisabilillah by Aries Triyanto

Excerpt from “Video as Video” by Usman Apriandi

Excerpt from “Shoreline” by Kania Yuliandini

Excerpt from Waiting by Irine Stephanie

Excerpt from “Propaganda” by Hilmi Fabeta

Sound Art

Through out the semester I emphasized the creative use of sound in all my work with Indonesian artists and filmmakers. Some of the students engaged with sound for the first time and often did so energetically even though they had access to very limited sound production equipment.

Sculpture student and first time sound artist, Dita Gambiro, created this sound installation structured around her personal and cultural roots:

She ended up working primarily with sound throughout the semester. This was the first sound piece she produced:

The Javanese in me by Dita Gambiro:

Here are additional excerpts of the sound art that students created during the course, some of which were installed in the final show:

Angst by Erick Puauhrizi:

Propaganda by Hilmi Fabeta:

Febie Babyrose, painter, video artist and performance artist, produced the video installation “Wedding Superstition” and the videosonic piece Trap:

Barung Grahita’s multimedia installation went on to win the top prize at the Indonesian new art competition at the National Gallery in Jakarta:

Muhammad Akbar created an installation involving TV montiors broadcasting an image of their electronic innards

Wisli Sagara created Passing a dramatic installation that became the entrance to the exhibition. The movement of visitors triggered an earth shattering surround sound piece of passing trains. Wisli hauled tons of tracks and ties from the railroad yard to create the physical alteration that he wanted:

Deden organized a public artist talk where the students presented their work to the country’s leading video artist, Krisna Murti, and two of its most respected curators, Agung Hujatnikajennong and Aminudin TH. Siregar.

Documentary Course and Screening

Many of the documentary students suffered from high levels of procrastination – a student curse that makes a particular mess of the planning and time required by documentary filmmaking. But, as usual, a very sleepy but adrenaline pumped group of filmmakers greeted design department faculy Andhika Dhyanie Prasetya and Intan Rizky Mutiaz and myself on the screening day with a wonderful collection of first time shorts. Most managed to construct the character-driven scene-based stories that we had been working toward all semester. This is particularly relevant in the Indonesian context where a strong verbal tradition dominates and documentaries have a long history, influenced by thirty years of dictatorship, of relying heavily on ‘voice-of-god’ narration.

The students also managed to construct their stories with very limited equipment. Most created heir work with very small digital cameras. Some worked quite miraculously with videophones and flash files. There determination was inspiring. Most edited on their own laptops using Premier. The lack of microphones limited their ability to do decent sound work.

Excerpt from Barong Sekeloa by Rangga Kusmalendra, Randy Tito Suharyanto, Brian Setzer, Wibowo Tresna Muktiaji, Rangga Muslim

Excerpt from Agung Prabowo – Psychedelic Experimental Journey by Shandy Abdi Maulana, Anindita Putri, Muhammad Reza, Luky Primadani, Aninda Purnamashari

Excerpt from Zoo Keeper by Rahma Utami, Hendri Kusumah F., Ganesha Adiguna

Excerpt from Bubur by William Roderick, Ikhwan Hakim, Mohammad Iqbal Ari K., Eddu Enoary E., Wina Amelia

I feel very fortunate to have developed, what I’m sure will be, life-long relationships with a number of the students and faculty. We had plenty of opportunities to celebrate our successes and friendship.

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