Throughout the process of designing the Gohar Khatoon girls’ school, we have explored various ways to engage the school community–not only to improve the design, but also to involve the students and teachers in all stages of the project. This is important, because in the end, this building will be their school. Many educational institutions built by aid organizations in Afghanistan over the last few years have remained empty or have been put to a different use after completion, simply because they didn’t meet the community’s needs. Our role as architects is to understand these needs and to respond accordingly. To achieve this goal, we have kept an open line of communication with the construction team, and the community, by using various forms of electronic media that help to connect two distant locations–one being a war zone. We have weekly phone discussions and use tools such as Skype and Facebook to stay connected and informed. Recently, we took another step to further the dialogue between the design team and the local community. Working with the Afghan American Friendship Foundation, we have prepared the groundwork for an art competition to design murals for six different walls in the school building. The competition will be open to all Afghan women, especially students, from any age group or experience level. Having murals on walls in public buildings is not a foreign idea for this community; in fact, the walls of the old school building had sections of poetry written in different places, and graffiti representing “peace” in Dari.
Most forms of art were banned during Taliban rule. The national gallery in Kabul was closed, and many of the contents were destroyed. Some of the curators hid so-called “un-Islamic” paintings or used watercolor over oil paintings to conceal faces and images not approved by the Taliban. Afghanistan’s art was initially produced almost entirely by men, but more recently, women have also been encouraged to create works of art. In 2008, an exhibition displaying the works of Afghan women artists was held in Kabul titled, A New Start, was the first of its kind in the country. An exhibition of selected artwork is also planned for the mural competition, and will take place during the school opening ceremony. This will be the first exhibition of its kind in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif. Simple diagrams were used to describe the competition requirements to the participants, these illustrated where the wall murals would be located in the school.
A group of participants recently attended a question and answer session, and also visited the school to view the spaces where the murals will be installed. We are excited to see their proposals for the project!
A workshop is planned for selected competition nominees to participate in the installation of the winning artwork, with the help of professional female artists. This promises to be a great learning experience for the non-professional artists in the group, and will also allow the runners-up to participate in the process. The wall murals will become the focus of a memorable event for the community, and lend a distinctive character to the school for many years to come.