Image Courtesy of Seattle Opera

In conjunction with its presentation of A Thousand Splendid Suns, Seattle Opera is also
hosting a cultural festival to celebrate a vast array of Afghan arts and culture. Entitled
Jashin: A Celebration of Afghan Arts, this festival will be held on the afternoon of
February 11 at the Opera Center.

Seattle Opera’s Lokela Alexander Minami, Associate Director of Community
Engagement, has taken the lead in coordinating this open-ended experience. “Since
the American withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer, Washington state has
welcomed thousands of Afghan refugees who worked and fought alongside Americans
during the decades-long conflict with the Taliban,” he said. “Despite this, the American
public knows little about Afghanistan’s rich and diverse culture.”

In response, the Opera is hosting a full slate of multiple artforms. The Refugee Artisan
Initiative will offer crafts for sale, while the ArtLords will exhibit artworks rescued from
Afghanistan and facilitate the co-creation of a mural together with community
participants. Shogofa Amini will conduct a poetry reading, in addition to film and live
music, and opportunities to engage in Q&A with the artists.

Afghan cultural consultant Humaira Ghilzai has worked to bring cultural authenticity to
Seattle Opera’s events. “Opera is not part of our musical history and Afghanistan is not
often represented on the opera stage,” Ghilzai said. “I work with teams across the
organization to establish a framework for how we should represent Afghanistan in an
opera context, since this is a project that’s new both for the opera world and for

Ghilzai is particularly enthused about the Jashin event. “Every time I work on a project,
the first thing I do is encourage the organization to host an event showcasing Afghan
culture,” she shared. “These events don’t just provide opportunities for non-Afghans to
learn about Afghan culture, but they also celebrate Afghan culture in a way that
enhances the participation of the Afghans who are part of the production and
showcases the rich culture of Afghanistan which so many of us are proud of.”

This is especially important because the news for the past several decades has
centered on the wars in Afghanistan. “People have forgotten about Afghanistan’s
humanity, its history, its rich cultural traditions,” Ghilzai said. “So, for me, it’s really
important that non-Afghans see the talents of Afghan people and our culture, and that
the Afghan artists themselves feel celebrated, appreciated, and respected.”

Ghilzai’s aim is to provide platforms for Afghan artists to thrive. “Since the Taliban
takeover of the Afghan government in August of 2021, one of the many devastating
things to have happened is that our artists have been silenced,” she said. “I’m thinking,
for example, of the folk musicians who didn’t have connections with Western countries
and weren’t to seek political asylum in other countries.”

But now live music has been banned in Afghanistan, as has visual art. “That is
devastating to me,” Ghilzai shared. “To silence people like that is basically like killing
their culture.”

To remedy that, she has worked to encourage a broad line-up for this event. “I have
admired and enjoyed Homayoun Sakhi’s music for over twelve years, when he first
resettled in the Bay Area,” she said. “He wasn’t well known among the northern-
California Afghan community when he first arrived, but he has been a regular presence
at various culture events ever since.”

Ghilzai’s appreciation for the ArtLords has generally been from afar. “They only recently
left Afghanistan,” she relayed. “I appreciate how they have reimagined art in
Afghanistan, taking areas that were completely associated with warfare and then
transforming them into platforms for beauty.”

And of particular note is the work offered by the Refugee Artisan Initiative. “Embroidery
is one of the most revered arts in Afghanistan,” Ghilzai reported. “Embroidery is in our
blood, in a way. Every Afghan who was born in Afghanistan and grew up there has
learned embroidery.”

With this sharing, Ghilzai hopes that members of the local community will step forward
to connect with the local Afghan community. “The Refugee Artisan Initiative will be
accepting donations at Jashin to support the refugee artisans they work with, and they
also have a donations page on their website,” she noted. “RAI also accepts donations of
materials for making fabric jewelry, like beads, fabric, scissors, thread, and sewing
machines. Readers should contact them at [email protected] if they are interested
in volunteering or donating materials.”

Minami, too, hopes that this event will build bridges. “Jashin offers an opportunity to
celebrate this culture,” he said, “and we hope our audiences will come away with an
appreciation of contemporary Afghan music and art, as well as an understanding of how
they can help support our new Afghan neighbors.”

In addition to these February events, Seattle Opera will continue to support Afghan
women with an event on March 8, International Women’s Day, entitled Shujaat:
Celebrating Afghan Women’s Resilience, focusing both on local Afghan women
refugees and women still in Afghanistan, and sharing additional ways that the Puget
Sound community can help.

Jashin: A Celebration of Afghan Arts will be presented on February 11 at the Opera
Center, 363 Mercer Street, Seattle.

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