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Published September 24th 2013
A gift you will want to give to all your friends
Earlier this month I went to the Hawke Centre for a book launch of an unusual kind. This is a book of books: a set of 53 concertina artists' books created by fourteen Australian women artists, that had travelled to Afghanistan, to be written on by a group of Afghani women who had recently learnt how to read and write; the books had then been brought back to Australia, photographed, and sold to the Queensland State Library for $9,800. The book was launched in Adelaide and consists of photographs of the artist's books with the texts written on them, and alongside are the texts translated into English. All the photos in this article are taken from the book, which was designed by Joe Scigitano and photos are by Susan Gordon-Brown except where stated otherwise. It is beautifully produced, and priced at $38, it is extremely good value.
The book was published by SAWA-Australia, a not-for-profit organisation founded in 2004 to provide Afghan women with education and health services for a future Afghanistan free of fundamentalist violence and foreign interference. SAWA-Australia (SA), the first state branch of the national SAWA-Australia organisation, was set up in 2010. There are regional groups in Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland.
one of the writers at work, photo by Latifa Ahmady
All profits from the sale of the artists' books, as well as this book – which was published by crowd funding - will go towards supporting the Vocational Training Centre in Kabul, where the women writers have received their education. At the launch Matthias Tomczak described how he went to Kabul to deliver the books, and he has been back more recently to see how the Centre is going. The book was launched by Dr. Nahid Afrose Kabir, from the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia. This Centre, says Dr. Kabir, is committed to developing a distinct approach to countering the thinking and habits that lead to misunderstandings between those who are Muslims and those who are not. I look forward to hearing about some of the events this Centre will be initiating.
Dr. Kabir likened the book project to the concept of a pen pal, but with an exchange of emotions on a much deeper level. The texts in this book describe poverty, illiteracy, early marriage and men's drug addiction. There are stories of families fleeing to neighbouring countries and their sense of loss and despair upon returning to Afghanistan. We are told of the prevailing corruption in Afghanistan and how foreign aid money is streamed by the warlords for their personal interests. These Afghan women call for foreign aid to go to their training centre, OPAWC, which was established to help to improve women's destitute conditions.
I was disappointed that neither the artists nor the authors were able to attend the launch. The artist who initiated this project is Gali Weiss, who lives in Melbourne. In a moving article in the book, Latifa Ahmady, director of OPAWC, describes how eager the women were to write their stories. Some of the original books were lost or damaged, but 36 were safely returned to Australia.
Afghans have a strong literary tradition that is closely connected with Iran's. The Afghan women write in Dari, which is also very similar to Farsi, the language of Iran. If you'd like to hear some Farsi poetry, then why not get along to the Nexus World Music Festival, where Persian poet and artist Elyas Alavi will be performing on October 4 at 8pm with Chris Martin (Piano) and Derek Pascoe (Saxophone).
Elyas is originally from Afghanistan, and his performance, 'A Desolate Voice,' evokes the brutality of war, the pain of loss and the compassion of love and hope, that are all part of daily life in his homeland.