Artist: Yazmany Arboleda
Date: May, 2015
Timeframe: 5 months
Partners/Sponsors: Mayor’s Office, the Department of Defense, Aga Khan Trust for Culture

One Saturday morning, 130 youth volunteers flood Kabul streets and handout 10,000 pink balloons to adults walking to work. The idea was to interrupt the daily routines of adults walking to work on the day of the week when their morale is at their lowest. The intention was to change the narrative of a war-torn city with a declaration of promise, happiness and beauty.

SCALE: the people, the location, virtual reach

Over a period of five months permission and support was sought from the Department of Defense, the Mayors Office, several Embassies, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC). Twelve civil society organizations were brought on as partners in order to bring 130 youth volunteers on board who would become fellow artists in this project and take part on workshops that would expose them to social practice art.

AKTC provided access to the location from which the balloon blowers set up their camp overnight and flooded into the day as the sun rose – the historic Timur Shah Mausoleum. The building stands in one of the oldest surviving parts of Kabul, with its traditional street plan, houses and winding lanes and flanks the urban center with close access to markets, historic mosques, a wide range of governmental agencies, as well as the city’s largest bus station.

Prior to the installation, two national media partners Moby Media and Film Annex aired a teaser of the installation on television. Globally, a digital platform connected 2.500 supporters from 42 countries to Afghanistan in personal way. Within days of the installation, the BBC, Al-Jazeera, ABC News, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Independent and numerous local TV, radio and print media picked up the balloon orchestration. The Internet bubbled with YouTube videos showing the streets of Kabul and happy faces of people walking to work. One of the artists began a series of 23 mini documentaries featuring Afghan artists that participating, sharing their hopes, dreams and aspirations with the rest of the world.


Creative Collaboration: The project brought together partners that rarely worked together and strengthened a network of Afghan creatives who continued to work together afterward on art projects, and sharing stories, assignments, job posting etc. using the project Facebook page. Based on conversations and anecdotes, it was also clear that the installation shifted the view of these young artists as to what constitutes art and expanded their perspective to include an understanding of ephemeral participatory art.

Global Cultural Inspiration
Through local and international press coverage of the installation, the world got a different visual experience of Kabul streets and a better understanding of the people of Afghanistan. Through engaging young Afghan artists the project also highlighted and instilled pride existing cultural and artistic wealth of the country. A film-maker went to create more than 20 short youtube videos of Afghan artists that participated.

In the article Bringing Art To A War Zone, IPI Global Observatory, Yazmany Arboleda says, ‘in this case, the act of giving away 10,000 pink balloons generated interpretations linked to peace, reconciliation, gender equality, and the struggle against corruption. The project also inspired dialogue both positive and negative about the role of the importance of the arts in post-war environments, the value of creativity, the implications of foreign support of the arts.

Changing Perceptions of the City
Because of the suicide and gun attack that had taken place the night before the installation, the project took on a new meaning. Volunteers saw the project as a means of reclaiming the city for themselves and having it be a statement about whom Kabul really belongs to – not to the Taliban but to them. Also, the women that participated were emboldened, and in turn emboldened other women to walk and be seen in the city. Internationally, the press showed images of Kabul that were diametrically different from images conventionally depicting fear, insecurity, and war. Instead, a powerful perspective of the people of Afghanistan was created. A more normalized and balanced understanding of the presence of pharmacists, fruit-sellers, taxi drivers, musicians and artists.


THE NIGHT BEFORE: Hours before, a curl of smoke hung over the city from a large-scale attack on an international organization – a suicide car bomb followed by rocket-propelled grenades and sniper fire. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had targeted a rest house used by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

The sounds of the five-hour battle with security forces reverberated through the city as night fell. A policeman was killed in the attack and ten people wounded. Emails shot back and forth between the balloon volunteers. The suggestion that the project should be aborted was met by a countered commitment to proceed. As the attack continued, their plans solidified. “We own this city,” they wrote.

Tags: peace, reconciliation, gender equality, struggle against corruption