When I first encountered ‘Bow Echo’, by Aziz Hazara, it was on exhibition at the 22nd Biennale of Sydney in 2019. Five large screens were suspended in the shape of a pentagon, and the audience was central to completing the work. The screens start out black and as each projection begins, one tilts ones chin upwards and turns one’s body to look at what is taking place. Five Afghani boys from the artists community, with toy trumpet in hand try to climb atop a rocky outcrop in the mountains around Kabul during a wind storm and then play their trumpet. Watching the boys in their Sisyphean task, I felt a desire for them to win and make purchase on the landscape even momentarily. When the boys did get a foot hold, I felt a tender sense of celebration, laced with my fear for them, for their tenuous and fragile hold on life, relying as all young people do on the care of others.
There is an aesthetic resolution and elegance to ‘Bow Echo’, a poetic, Romantic resonance, with a capitol R, that pitches these slender boys with their pre-pubescent lithesomeness against nature. Hazara weaves that most intimate evidence of the boys existence: the sounds of their breath animating cheap, disposable, plastic trumpets, into the sound of the wind and the sound of technological surveillance and asymmetrical warfare – a drone. In this aural landscape the sound of the trumpet appears as a plaintiff call for attention. In ‘Bow Echo’, I as an independent audience member was placed central to the action, navigating other audience members and trying to honour the offering, it was an intimate and disorienting moment of intercultural displacement.
‘Bow Echo’, is a highly political intercultural work, operating beyond the barriers of national language, carrying both a metta-narrative about human struggle and also carrying an intimate trace of the particularity of the situated localised struggle of growing up in Kabul. When viewing the work, I asked myself and still am: What is my ability to act and respond ethically in this (inter)cultural contact zone the artwork has created? In my PhD research I am looking at what reframing art education in art galleries as a practice of (inter) cultural mediation could achieve. My research considers and reconsider what ethical viewing, acting and speaking entails. I am guided by a personal commitment to the importance of sitting with ambiguity, I see this as a pedagogical imperative, particularly in intercultural contexts where the risk of misunderstanding and the consequence of that misunderstanding is amplified.
Theologian Gordon Kauffman, as cited by writer, activist and theorist Sarah Sentilles, puts it this way and I paraphrase, uncertainty is an ethical standpoint – that doesn’t mean you can’t hold an opinion, but it means you cannot harm another because of it. Kaufmann, who was Sarah Sentilles’ teacher, said that in order to make new worlds we first have to be able to imagine them – and that the space of the imagination is the space where hope resides. Artists remind us that it is possible to make something new – not in an abstract way but in a concrete way by taking up materials and providing evidence that it is still possible for the act of creation to rise up from amongst the devastation. Sentilles frames the act of creation as a resurrection of hope. (Sentilles,2018).
I hope this is true.