RSS feed


The Little Book of Kabul


Afghanistan is on the news as a theatre of war and a geopolitical conundrum that keeps international military and diplomacy both busy and flustered. Afghanistan as a concept is different from Afghanistan as a lived reality: political analysis and the media often overlook the complexities of daily life in a war torn country. But life continues despite the conflict, and so does the struggle to preserve a sense of normality. Creative and artistic practices, their trials and negotiations of margins of experimentation, offer a privileged entry point in the observation and understanding of what normality may entail in a place like Kabul.

The Little Book of Kabul looks at the daily activities of artists, craftsmen, designers, musicians, at their hopes, desires and challenges. With the construction of an intimate proximity, it focuses on the human dimension of creativity: its details and gestures, its nuanced subtleties and spontaneity. What does it mean for an Indie rock group to record their first album in the middle of power cuts and chronic lack of resources? How does one go about setting up a painting school for girls? Which is the way forward in the attempt to merge innovation and tradition? With an evocative language, The Little Book of Kabul hints at the practical dimension of the creative endeavour hoping to reveal both the human facet of cultural production and the ways in which it intersects with the daily life of the city of Kabul.

By “shadowing” artists in their daily activities, The Little Book of Kabul unveils a different portrait of Kabul made of the spaces that they inhabit and navigate.

To support the fieldwork for the project, The Little Book of Kabul has launched a crowd-funding campaign. Please follow this link if you want to know more and contribute.

For more information, please visit The Little Book of Kabul website

related links

Interview with Frame Magazine on November 20, 2012 | Text by Katherine Dunn |

Q&A: Little Book of Kabul

Finding Culture Amidst Conflict

Forget tanks, road blocks and violence; it’s time to see Kabul through the eyes of musicians, painters and craftsmen.

That’s the aim of photographer Lorenzo Tugnoli and writer Francesca Recchia, who have set out to create a book on the Afghan city’s arts and culture scene, called The Little Book of Kabul.

They are currently raising funds for the project on Indiegogo, and Francesca talked to us from Kabul about indie bands, crowd sourcing, and why art and design can survive – even thrive – amidst war.

Can you tell me what your first interaction with the arts and cultural life of Kabul was like?
Lorenzo Tugnoli and I started working in May 2011 on an article for [Italian arts magazine] Domus called Creative Kabul that was published later that year. I remember a conversation I had in London with a couple of friends when the idea first took shape. I was really excited, my friends looked at me as if I were mad and said: ‘Good luck! This sounds like a hopeless treasure hunt…’ Luckily their scepticism did not discourage us.

So I travelled to Kabul, and the treasure hunt started. It was a really exciting time: we met a lot of people and went scouting for both big and small organisations and single individuals working with creative practices: from traditional musicians to conceptual artists, from a painting school for girls to a cultural foundation that uses theatre to explain the meaning of parliamentary democracy.

We were surprised by the great variety and complexity we were met with. We found a small, but growing, cultural scene made of very thoughtful and articulate people, vocal about their aesthetic and cultural choices and confident about the relevance of their work.

What do you think are the greatest myths or misapprehensions people outside of Afghanistan have about the cultural life of the city?
I have been working on the role of creative practices in countries in conflict for many years now and my work has always been met with a strange sense of surprise. People never expect that despite war, art and culture keep thriving and, in fact, become a powerful tool of resistance to the alienation that violence produces. Afghanistan in this respect is a case in point. Art, music and design are oases of peace and normality in Kabul, they are powerful spaces of beauty.

The greatest myth is perhaps the flat representations of Afghanistan we are constantly exposed to. Media discuss this country in the abstract terms of geopolitics, military strategy, financial figures, and inevitably people slip off the frame. They are only there when media needs victims to hit the news. There is much more in Afghanistan than these kinds of simplistic portraitures. Yes, life here is really tough, but it does go on and there are many positive rays of hope for the future. The dynamic urban youth is definitely one of those.

How have you managed the logistics of producing the Little Book of Kabul? How will it be printed, for example?
For the publication of The Little Book of Kabul we are working with the American independent publisher Foxhead Books: they will support us with the printing – which of course is not possible in Kabul – and the book will have international distribution.

The difficult logistical part of the project is the present one. The research phase that is necessary to put the book together is completely self-funded and living and working in Kabul is quite expensive. I don’t have a permanent job in the city, hence I have to fly out every month to renew my visa and then there is transportation and the translations. Also, for the book we are working with black and white film: you cannot find film rolls and chemicals in Kabul and we don’t have access to good quality printing in the city. These are all elements that increase the production costs. This is why we have decided to run a crowd funding campaign. We are not looking for donations, we are asking our future, potential readers to buy the book in advance and invest in the project. We have only a few days left, more than hundred people already supported us, but we still need some more investors to reach our final goal!

What is one of your favourite cultural projects, artists or craftsmen in the city?
We are ‘shadowing’ three cultural practitioners, who will be the main characters ofThe Little Book of Kabul. Naming only one will be unfair to the amazing work that the others are doing. So I guess I will use this chance to express my greatest admiration and intellectual respect for the artists we are working with.

The Kabul Dreams, the first indie rock band in Afghanistan; they are great musicians and wonderful human beings, their thoughtfulness and meticulous care for details are an endless source of inspiration. Rahim Walizada is a designer who combines contemporary and traditional languages; his generosity and tireless quest for beauty never ceases to take you by surprise. Rahraw Omarzad is the founder of the Centre for Contemporary Arts Afghanistan, his humility and determination make him a great role model both in human and professional terms.

The project focuses on the transition in 2014 – how do you anticipate the impact that will have on the city’s cultural scene?
The artists we are working with have been committed to their practices for a very long time, they are solid and consistent: they do not talk much, but keep themselves busy with planting seeds of cultural change. A bright young woman, a multimedia artist, just this morning told me that she believes that art practice can make a change and contribute to making a better society in Afghanistan. ‘We need to begin changing ourselves and then the country will improve,’ she said. From within, bottom up, and irrespective of the international political agenda.