Afghanistan brought to Schmucker art gallery
By Meghan O’Donnell, Staff Writer
In an exhibit that runs from September 9, 2015 to December 11, 2015, artist Gregory Thielker and anthropologist Noah Colburn have brought portraits of Afghanistan to the Gettysburg College community. Colburn and Thielker worked for the last four years on their project and visited Afghanistan numerous times in order to delve into the history and culture of the area. Much of their work focuses on the recent period of U.S. intervention in the region. Pictures of military bases surrounded in barbed wire are paired with photos of private living rooms, demonstrating in many ways how military operations entered the private lives of civilians over the past decade. Yet at the same time, the harsh and beautiful landscape of Afghanistan is portrayed on hot summer days and cool, snowy winters, illustrating that the geography of the land is just as much a part of Afghanistan’s story as its people.
The centerpiece of the exhibit is a 35-foot panoramic painting of this rugged Afghan landscape. Standing in the middle of it, you can look to each side and see nothing but mountains, trees, and stone buildings around you. Men are walking along the roads, just trying to get from one place to another. The sounds of Afghanistan – of wind, of machinery, of people – play from speakers situated in the panorama. If you let yourself, for a few moments you can be transported to Afghanistan and experience the day as it is displayed before you. The panorama is meant to be an experience. It’s the greatest achievement of Thielker and Colburn in their exhibit because of this. The pair has demonstrated that art is to be experienced, that Afghanistan itself is to be experienced.
The exhibit comes at a time when U.S. relations with the Middle East are rocky at best. This, however, is precisely why its presence in Schmucker Art Gallery is so very important: Thielker and Colburn present to us the essence of Afghanistan as it is right now. There is no bias, no exaggeration, no skewed motives hidden in their work. Afghanistan is shown as rugged, culturally rich, and full of the marks of military occupation. There is nothing good nor bad about these varied depictions of Afghanistan; the exhibit shows us simply what is.