Monday, August 29, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Our nation is bracing itself to remember the horror of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and Flight 93 as we approach its 10th anniversary. The whole world continues to feel the effects of this tragedy, with heightened security, fear and unease now much more a part of daily life, and the emotional and physical scars of the victims, our armed forces, and their families will be endured for years to come.

Its just as important, though, to remember all the innocent people in Afghanistan who have been affected by the events of 9/11. And those in Iraq and even Pakistan. So many of them are women and children, powerless victims without control over their surroundings.

It is conservatively estimated that betwen 12,000 and 14,000 Afghan civilians have been killed since 2001. They are killed by crossfire, improvised explosive devices, assassination, bombing, and night raids into houses of suspected insurgents. Unexploded ordnance from previous wars and from U.S. cluster bombs continue to kill after the fighting stops. The hospitals in Afghanistan are treating increasing numbers of amputees and burn patients, and in 2009, the Afghan Ministry of Public Health said two-thirds of Afghans suffer mental health problems.

As we remember 9/11, let's expand our mourning for all the victims, and work together to make a real and lasting peace. Let us not abandon them, but let us not assume dominion either. And if you'd like to help, consider supporting one of these fine organizations.

RAWA - Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

Emergency provides medical assistance
Women for Afghan Women

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Why Supporting Afghan Women is Imperative to Peace

Geraldine Brooks "It is impossible to say, now, what would have happened..."

Why Peace is the Business of Men... and Shouldn't Be ...Men at the negotiating table still jockey for power and wealth -- notably control of a country’s natural resources -- while women included at any level of negotiations commonly advocate for interests that coincide perfectly with those of civil society. Women are concerned about their children and consequently about shelter, clean water, sanitation, jobs, health care, education, and the like -- all those things that make life livable for peaceable men, women, and children anywhere. The conclusion is self-evident. Bring women to the table in decision-making roles in equal numbers with male participants and the nature of peace negotiations changes altogether.

Ann Jones "We don't have as many women in our Congress as Afghanistan has in theirs... Women were put into the Parliment by the arrangements made through tht international community that required 25% quota for women... but can you imagine suggesting that we should have a quota. in this country so that 25% of our representatives in Congress be women? We'd be stoned!" We foist it onto the countries we are trying to democratize, but the notion of democratizing our own country in that way is unthinkable!"

Tomcast: "You can put $130 million taxpayer dollars into a new aircraft-fueling system at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or billions of taxpayer dollars into the Pakistani military (defending a country in which the rich go notoriously untaxed), but not one cent for peace. As for women, well, too bad."

"If they ask you why we died, tell them because our fathers lied." Essay by Ray McGovern, retired CIA analyst

Sadiqa Basiri Saleem: As a refugee living in Pakistan, Sadiqa Basiri Saleem was close to earning a medical degree when the Taliban shut down her Afghan-run school. When she returned home to Wardak province after the fall of the Taliban, she found 150,000 girls with no hope for an education — for years, the regime had forbidden girls over the age of eight from attending school.

Help the organizations that help:

Women for Afghan Women

Women for Women helping women survive war

Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan RAWA is the oldest political/social organization of Afghan women struggling for peace, freedom, democracy and women's rights in fundamentalism-blighted Afghanistan since 1977.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Enews from Barbara Koenen

Summer Muse

Dear Friend,

"They are heavy in my hand. Round, lumpy, fecund. If I threw them against a wall they would explode, fragments of pulp and red stain..."

This is the beginning of my essay, Muse, which appears in the Summer issue of Gastronomica, the Journal of Food and Culture.
It is an anecdotal reminiscence about pomegranates and hand grenades and their odd, unfortunate centuries-old relationship, accompanied by the beautiful photograph (above) taken by my friend, photographer William Zbaren.

The essay stems from a 2007 installation I did at Finestra Art Space in the Fine Arts Building. You can see some photos if you missed it, and reviews on my website, Gastronomica is available at Whole Foods or online here. Also wonderful articles on John Cage and Mycology, foraging in Oregon, and the politics of sustainability. The whole issue is a real treat.

Coming Soon-- The War Rug Project

It is hard to believe that its been almost 10 years since terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, and we went to war in Afghanistan. I've been creating installations based on Afghan war rugs ever since, in some attempt to digest, resolve, and commemorate the sacrifices that have resulted from these tragic events.

This September, I will be making a new war rug installation -- this time based on a 9/11 war rug. I will be making it at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, which has selected me to exhibit during the 2011 Art Prize competition. The exhibition will run from September 6 - October 21, and I encourage you to consider making the trip to attend.

War Rugs?
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in the late 1970s, Afghan women, the traditional weavers, began to incorporate pictures of weapons into their traditional floral, animal and geometric patterns. Subtle at first, soon rifles, grenades, tanks, AK-47s, helicopters, landmines and bullets dominated these strange textiles, erasing centuries of previous motifs.

I adopted the practice of the Tibetan Buddhist monks who make elaborate sand mandalas that they then destroy, and began to reconstruct Afghan War Rugs like mandalas, using spices instead of sand. A meditation, my spice war rugs take up to a week to complete, with fringe and popper firecrackers attached. Like the mandalas, they exist only temporarily, and are often touched, inhaled, even walked on. At first, I swept up the spices into jars at the end of each exhibition. Now I record the pieces as “monoprints,” which retain the pattern of the installation, its scent and color. I've made 8 war rugs so far, and you can see them here.

The War Rug Project
There will be several stages to the project.
Sept 6-11 Creation
Sept 11 Artists Talk, Ten Years After
Sept 21 - 28 Art Prize Voting
Sept 29 - Oct 9 Art Prize Round 2
Oct 21 Closing Ceremony / Monoprint Pull

At the conclusion of the exhibit, I will make a book that documents the 10 year project as an art work and an intellectual journey.

Why Art Prize?
My brother's family invited me to Grand Rapids last year to see Art Prize, an open, city-wide art exhibition and competition, and I went out of curiosity. I was amazed to see over 100,000 people walking all around town, and everyone was talking about art. Families, couples, kids. For three weeks straight! I decided Art Prize was an excellent opportunity to start a lot of conversations about war rugs, Buddhist mandalas, and the lost voices of Afghan women.

So, stay tuned for more details and think about a trip to Grand Rapids sometime this fall. It's guaranteed to be an interesting experience!

What else?

Wishing you a happy summer, and stay tuned for more about the War Rug Project. If you have thoughts or observations related to the project, the war, the rugs or the status of women that you'd like to share, please email me at And of course tell your friends, if they are interested in this sort of thing.

All the best,

Barbara Koenen

Sunday, August 7, 2011

War Rug Project Launches

Many friends have lent their support to The War Rug Project campaign.


Chuck Thurow
Kathy Banzhaf
Karen Paluzzi Steele
Pooja Vukosavich
Kristin Dean
Chris Gent
Laura Samson
Kristin Patton
Carol Reisinger
David Hinkamp
Marguerite Horberg
Dianna Frid
Esther Grimm
Carolina Jayaram
Beverly Koenen (thanks Mom!)
Robert Tassone

and many others who've offered their support.