Photo by Franáois Fleury
In the midst of its romantic atmosphere in a monumental Modernista mansion, the Casa Asia mounts exhibitions and hosts events, often of serious content.
Until the end of March, the centre presents a curated exhibition of photographs and videos from Afghanistan, a country of undisputable moral and political weight. It is not surprising that Casa Asia’s L’Afganistan primarily features work culled from photo and print journalism that characterises Afghanistan as a dismal, bombed out and war-filled world. It would be inappropriate to leave out these details. After thirty years of war, the Afghanis certainly lead complicated lives.
On the other hand, some of the images are playful and far from austere, offering glimpses into the humanity in the private Afghani life. The photos by Guillermo Cervera, a Spanish photographer based in Kabul, strike an affecting balance between the hard and light; members of the Afghani armed forces seated with guns in one photo and a young man in western dress posing aloofly in another. After nearly two decades in the country, Cervera accesses the intimate moments not possible with the on-assignment reporter. In a video that accompanies his colour prints, Cervera has included longer, extended moments, like, the captured instant of children grazing their fingertips across sand for a few seconds in time, where shadow and a shift of perspective turn the moment to home movie. Likewise, the video includes exchanges not included in the exhibition, including a man painting his face pale as he prepares to dress and dance as a woman. This work is moving and expository.
Equally compelling are the collection of black and white portraits hand-tinted by Cyrille Moleux. The photos, though old in appearance, defy with content their making. Which is to say, these portraits could be quite new; men pose with flowers, birds and prayer beads, but also radios, modern guns and walkie-talkies.
Afganistán is capped off with a four-channel video by contemporary Afghani writer, Atiq Rahimi. A Spanish man reads an excerpt from an autobiographical story about the author’s return to his exiled homeland. A triptych of photos accompany the spoken and written text and music sometimes overpowers the voice. Rahimi does not share a message of hope, but of powerlessness and subjugation. The war is far from over, least of all for the Afghanis.