Driving Social Change Through Art and Culture: Asia Culture House, Afghanistan

12 August 2020, 6:55 AM
Photo: A dancer

Written by Atharva Mehendale, Community Project Manager, URI-North India & Afghanistan

War and conflict, among other social, political and economic impacts - leads to devastation of historical sites, cultural assets and folklore. More than four decades of continuous war in Afghanistan have forced Afghans to care solely about their living conditions, survival, honour and access to the very basic resources. This has caused the rich cultural heritage of Afghanistan and the diversity to be largely side-lined in the state discourse.

Asia Culture House, established in 2014, is a non-profit, issue driven, multi-ethnic, multi-generational and inter-disciplinary arts and culture organization that promotes cultural democracy and artistic expression. It  firmly believes that cultural heritage can be a key factor in political, social and economic post-conflict stabilization and reconciliation, with the potential to foster intercultural dialogue, and provide a stable base for economic development. Asia Culture House tries to use research projects, documentary film making, publishing, debates & conferences, exhibitions, festivals, and other activities as tools to catalyse community development. It facilitates networking, capacity development services and advocacy in the spheres of visual arts, theatre, music, performing arts, literature, mixed media, global network and education. It functions through its 100+ members who are well-known artists, cultural practitioners, authors, university professors, young professionals and activists. To ensure a far-reaching impact, Asia Culture House has registered itself under the Ministry of Culture & Information and the Ministry of Economy in Kabul.

Active collaborations and partnerships with organisations in Afghanistan and beyond have helped Asia Culture House organise street art festivals, seminars, conferences and other events in Afghanistan since 2015. It promotes strengthening of democratic values, supporting tourism and crafts, fostering gender equality and empowering the vulnerable through a number of its activities.The organization associated with URI in 2016. This association gave representatives of Asia Culture House the opportunity to travel to India and network with a group of organizations and individuals working in the social sphere – in India and other parts of South Asia. This facilitated the exchange of ideas, resources and knowledge. Similar to what URI does, Asia Culture House has also been working towards creating a network for inter-organizational collaboration. These efforts are being made with the aim of increasing efficiency of art activism in the country.

Photo: Musicians

Mr. Najeeb from the organization stressed upon the importance of art in the process of community building. Art & culture has an important role to play in the regeneration of areas whose residents are disadvantaged - economically, socially, culturally, and environmentally. The creative energies of local individuals can greatly enhance culture and encourage more and more people to take up an active role in community development.

Working in order to promote art and culture in Afghanistan comes with its own set of challenges - security threats being the most significant in the list. The society in Afghanistan is conservative. Anti-social elements often do not find expression in the form of art acceptable. As a result of this, members of the organization work under a constant threat to life. In spite of these challenges, the organisation has been working towards identifying and strengthening Afghanistan’s rich cultural heritage, sub-cultures of its various ethnicities; as well as towards cultivating a cultural exchange between Afghanistan and other countries in Asia. Efforts like these in the right direction can go a long way in helping Afghans reclaim their cultural heritage.

Photo: Protest