In his best-selling novel The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini made famous the plight of Afghanistan during and after the Russian invasion and the subsequent rise of the Taliban. The central metaphor of kite flying, a long-standing cultural tradition, became the thread that carried the narrative as a metaphor for reconnection and hope, and gave immediacy to the plight of the Afghani people. Contemporary artist Lida Abdul explores similar territory through alternate means, offering a visual exploration of a landscape characterized by destruction and silence — also offering the image of hope held aloft.
Abdul offers an insider’s view through three performance-based films, on view at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in the third floor Contemporary Galleries. Abdul, born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1973, left the war-torn country with her family, lived as a refugee in Germany and India, and finally landed in Southern California where she attended school. Returning to Afghanistan in 2001, Abdul found the destruction that she subsequently documented, making art as meditation and memorial.
White House (2005) depicts the artist painting the ruins of a house, strenuously laboring at what appears to be a futile task. Memory is all that remains, symbolized by a somberly dressed man who emerges from the wrecked structure. Abdul paints him, too, brushing thick swaths of white paint onto his back as he stands, unmoving as the stone around him.
In What We Saw Upon Awakening (2006), several men pull at ropes tied to another destroyed building. Another futile act, but again, a metaphor for the need to find closure, if such a thing is possible — bringing the structure down to complete its passage. Finally, the men instead bury a solitary chunk of stone from the building’s edifice, brushing dirt over the gravesite.
The final film, In Transit (2008), is the most evocative of the three, offering the most tension and also the most hope. Several young boys are engaged in an act of playful imagination: They have tied ropes to a downed Russian military plane and pretend to fly it like a kite. They have stuffed the pockmarked shell with tufts of cotton, and as the wind blows it out of the holes, they gather them up as if putting the stuffing back into a pillow.
With so many generations of oppression and destruction behind these children, what kind of hope is there for a better future? The promise of youth is still present, as if hope were not complex after all.
Lida Abdul’s work is on view at the Indianapolis Museum of Art through Sept. 28 and is free and open to the public. Call 317-923-1331 or visit www.imamuseum.org for more information.