The aim of ‘(Un)governed Spaces’ is to create a visual experience that reflects the difficult relationship America has with Afghanistan. By examining the Bagram region, occupied by one of the largest American airbases, we wish to ask questions about how Americans see Afghanistan, and in this process, understand what this perception reveals about American identity.
Current descriptions of Afghanistan are often hyperbolic. Policy papers, media sources, and even academic accounts often rely on simple narratives that ignore local context and culture, missing the complex ways that Afghan people are actually experiencing the current intervention. American policy is a reflection of idealism, but also the impulse to create an alterity of foreign culture and landscape. This project attempts to shift the way that we perceive Afghanistan though site-specific investigation.
Working as partners (Gregory Thielker is an artist and Noah Coburn is an anthropologist who has written extensively about Afghanistan), we have conducted research in Afghanistan for several years, focusing on the Bagram area of the Shomali Plain. The Bagram area has a rich history of military occupation, from Alexander the Great to Soviet occupation to Taliban, and while nominally at peace, there is deep unease and resentment among locals about American presence. The community around Bagram possesses a unique mixture of ethnicity and power distribution, from war lords to elected officials to Afghan military, each jostling for a relationship with Americans. In many ways, this place serves as a crossroads; it is the access point for military commanders flying in and out of Afghanistan, yet on the ground, these near-constant flights create an atmosphere of constant interruption and unpredictability.
This project is an effort to make manifest the fractured and shifting reality that shapes the community.
Greg Thielker and Noah Coburn