War, violence and political instability have had a dramatic impact on the growth and development of cultural production in Afghanistan. Waves of economic and humanitarian emergencies have also made the arts a low priority on the political agenda.
In the last three decades, official responses to artistic initiatives have varied from indifference to outright hostility. But in recent years, Afghanistan has witnessed the blossoming of an important cultural and artistic revival.
In spite of many obstacles, a new generation of artists is now emerging: a generation of young women and men, who wish to express themselves through creative means and who are extremely keen to gain greater exposure while exploring new artistic forms and languages.
In Afghanistan, a traditional art education system based on copy and repetition has so far limited institutional opportunities for artistic experimentation, preventing bright artistic talents from fully blossoming.
For many young artists, this has triggered a particular hostility toward tradition, which is often wrongly interpreted as an obstacle to the free expression of creativity.
On the other hand, academic painters and visual artists working within the framework of realism or with traditional techniques, have found contemporary artistic expressions somewhat foreign and almost a threat to the local cultural integrity.
A few organizations are working to revitalize Afghanistan’s cultural heritage. Among these is the Turquoise Mountain Trust, which established the Afghan Contemporary Art Prize in 2008 to support the creative potential of a new generation of Afghan artists.
Now in its fourth year, the Afghan Contemporary Art Prize aims to nurture Afghan artistic talents by offering ten young artists an intensive interdisciplinary training that will culminate with the production of new work to be exhibited in Kabul in the fall of 2013 where they will evaluated by an international jury.
Reflecting the logic of what Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi defines as conflict chic, Afghanistan has recently become a preferred destination for international artists, who often visit Kabul for short periods to set up projects that clash with local mores and cultural sensitivity.
This has contributed to the widening gap between generations and has nurtured suspicion toward what has been perceived as foreign forms of expression, or worse, as yet another tool of cultural invasion.
The 2013 edition of the Afghan Contemporary Art Prize aims to address this controversial issue and foster a debate on how to develop a locally rooted language of contemporary expression. The intention is to contest the alleged opposition between tradition and innovation while building a sense of historical continuity and dialogue between different generations of artists and art forms.