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Indiana In Afghanistan: Cultivating Cross-Cultural Communication

The Prez in a fez? “I don’t know when we found out that Herman Wells had gone to Afghanistan in 1966,” Jim Canary recalled, “but that really opened things up.”

  • The Zanda Khel Schoolmaster and the Dam Project

    Image 1 of 5

    Photo: Doug Wissing

    In conjunction with Khost Province government officials and local villagers, the Agribusiness Development Team championed an Afghan-appropriate hydrology project. In this photo, the Zanda Khel schoolmaster left to supervise the project is telling the ADT agricultural specialists that the contractor in charge is corrupt.

  • Shura Tree

    Image 2 of 5

    Photo: Doug Wissing

    Khost Province villagers gather under a village tree for a shura (meeting) with the ADT agricultural specialists. ADT security soldiers stand guard.

  • The Dams of Zanda Khel and Shobo Khel

    Image 3 of 5

    Photo: Doug Wissing

    Villagers rest beside one of the dams and a stretch of stone wall. The dam is representative of the villagers’ check-dam construction, made of small stones with a deep causeway.

  • The Pashtun

    Image 4 of 5

    Photo: Doug Wissing

    Primarily populated by the Pashtun warrior tribe, Khost Province has been a hotbed of fundamentalist Islamic armed resistance since the start of the 1980s Soviet war. With a thousand-year-old culture, the Pashtuns rely on their tribal codes, which include the cultural cornerstones of nang (honor), tora (courage) and badal (revenge), as well as the equally important tenets of melmastia (hospitality) and nanawati—generosity to a defeated foe. This village leader in an insurgency-plagued district of Khost Province is an example of this proud warrior culture.

  • Fez

    Image 5 of 5

    Photo: Courtesy of the IU Archives

    Longtime IU President and Chancellor Herman B. Wells dons a fez in this cut-out photo discovered in the IU Archives.

Event Information

Indiana in Afghanistan; Afghanistan in Indiana

An exhibition juxtaposing journalist Doug Wissing’s contemporary photographs of Afghanistan with Afghistan-related archival material in IU’s collection.

Indiana University's Wells Library, 1st floor lobby

Through September 24, 2010 during library hours


In 2009, journalist Doug Wissing spent ten weeks in Afghanistan, embedded with the Indiana National Guard Agribusiness Development Team. The troops were attempting to help Afghan farmers in the insurgency-wracked Khost Province to improve their agribusiness and economic productivity.

While filing the stories for WFIU that would become the Cultivating Afghanistan series, Wissing recorded other stories – the kind that can’t be told in words.

Capturing Stories Within Stories

“Radio is great for capturing emotions,” Wissing explains, “from the anger in an Afghan’s voice after his village has been attacked, the tremor in a soldier’s voice when he’s talking about home, or the banter in a truck when you’ve just hit a bomb. But we’re also very visual. We want to know: what’s it look like?”

Wissing fills in these gaps with photos he took during his stints in Afghanistan. “Over here we’ve got a picture of a Pashtun tribesman,” Wissing gestures. “You can just see the courage in his eyes. That’s a warrior.”

Wissing’s photographs are currently on view in the main lobby of Indiana University’s Wells Library as part of the exhibition, Indiana in Afghanistan; Afghanistan in Indiana. The show juxtaposes Wissing’s photos with Afghistan-related archival material from IU’s collection.

Making The Proposal A Reality

When Wissing first proposed the idea of the show to his friend Jim Canary, the Lilly Library rare book conservator went about digging up whatever he could find on campus that linked IU to Afghanistan.

“I just assumed it would be here. I hadn’t any idea at the time,” Canary confesses. “But like any other subject here, you can just find a wealth of material scattered all across campus.”

In fact, at the Lilly Library, Canary discovered antique tourist pamphlets. At the Mathers Museum of World Cultures, he found a trove of Afghani instruments collected by the anthropologist Louis Dupree, whose recordings of indigenous musical performances are housed in the Archives of Traditional Music.

The Hope To Renew A Remote Connection

At the center of the exhibition are photos of IU’s longtime president in a fez, and surveying a library at Kabul University. “I don’t know when we found out that Herman Wells had gone to Afghanistan in 1966,” Canary recalled, “but that really opened things up.”

The hope is that this small exhibition, tucked into the library’s lobby, will renew the connection between Afghanistan and Indiana University.

“In a place like IU this war can become pretty remote,” Wissing says. “So it’s also an opportunity to remind folks that this is happening. It’s part of our society, it’s part of our life, and we need to pay attention to that.”

“My hope,” Canary explains, “is that someone will see [a photograph] that might trigger something inside, and get a glimmer of understanding beyond what they see on the news.”

For More Information…

Support for Cultivating Afghanistan comes from The Indiana University Inner Asian and Uralic National Resource Center, Office of International Programs and The Center for Languages of the Central Asian Region.

Yaël Ksander

WFIU's Arts Desk Editor, Yaël seeks out and shepherds the stories of artists, musicians, writers, and other creative people. In addition, Yaël co-hosts A Moment of Science, writes essays for A Moment of Indiana History, produces Speak Your Mind (WFIU's guest editorial segment), hosts music and news hours throughout the week, and lends her voice to everything from accounting courses to nature documentaries. Yaël holds a MFA in painting from Indiana University, an MA in art history from Columbia University, and a BA from the University of Virginia, where she studied languages and literature.

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