Helena Zeweri, Zelikha Shoja, & Hawa Amin-Arsala: Emergent Archives of Afghan Diasporic Memory
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Artist Zelikha Shoja and writer Hawa Arsala will discuss the power of storytelling in transforming and reimagining community identity. The panelists will examine how visual art and writing serve as unique mediums to engage with themes of ancestral identity, diasporic memory, and oral traditions of storytelling. In doing so, the discussion will explore how written and visual stories can create counter-archives to dominant representations of Afghan life. In situating these narratives as emergent, this discussion will also reference recent events in Afghanistan and their resonance for visual artists and writers in the diaspora, including the new forms of political consciousness they inspire. First, each panelist will give a brief presentation on their creative practices, followed by a panel discussion led by cultural anthropologist Helena Zeweri. Students will have an opportunity to engage with these themes by reviewing the work of the panelists prior to the class as well as asking questions at the end of the discussion.
Helena Zeweri is a founding member of Afghan American Artists and Writers Association (AAAWA). She has been involved in cultural and research initiatives with the Afghan diaspora in New York since 2008. She is currently an Assistant Professor in Anthropology at the University of British Columbia-Vancouver and an affiliate faculty member with the UBC Centre for Migration Studies. Prior to joining UBC, Helena was Assistant Professor of Global Studies (general faculty) at the University of Virginia. Helena received her PhD in Cultural Anthropology from Rice University. Her doctoral research was an ethnographic study of migrant-targeted social welfare policies in Australia. She has also conducted fieldwork with Australia’s refugee rights movement and Afghan women’s NGOs and is currently working on a project that examines Afghan diasporic activism since the Global War on Terror. Helena's work has been published in the International Feminist Journal of Politics, Feminist Formations, Ethnic and Racial Studies, the Australian Journal of Social Issues, and Ethnos, among other journals. She has taught courses on global migration, refugee resettlement, migrant women's activism, and humanitarianism. Helena completed MAs in Anthropology from The New School for Social Research and in Near Eastern Studies from New York University, as well as a BA in Middle Eastern and Asian Languages and Cultures from Columbia University.
Zelikha Shoja is a visual artist based on Onondaga land/Central New York. Her art practice is engaged in communal storytelling in the Afghan diaspora and post-memory, or the transmission of memory. Through performance, she re-stages and re-enacts moments and movements towards an embodied archive. By playing with touch and emphasizing gesture primarily in moving image, interactive sound installations, and performance, she explores how collective experiences can be transferred, mirrored, and felt by others. She holds a BIS in Diaspora Studies from George Mason University and is currently pursuing an MFA in Art Video from Syracuse University. Her work has shown at The Living Gallery (NY, New York); Governors Island (NY, New York); Everson Museum of Art (Syracuse, New York); Random Access Gallery (Syracuse, New York); Vancity Theatre (Vancouver, Canada); and Khodynka Gallery (Moscow, Russia).
Hawa Amin-Arsala’s field research, writing and creative work explore things like: the controlling mechanisms of power, digital intimacy, cultural folklore, aesthetic provocations of human behavior and benevolent technology. Though most comfortable in liminal spaces, she considers Washington D.C. and Afghanistan two geographies of origin. Amin-Arsala holds a BA with Honors from UC Berkeley in Media Studies (2010) with a concentration on the intersections of violence, meaning making and mass consciousness. Hawa’s transdisciplinary practice has touched the worlds of fine art, fashion, tech, media, diplomacy and journalism. Across her career, she’s creative directed global brand campaigns, conducted research on the effects of war on widows and children in Afghanistan, and studied youth culture across America. In 2010, Hawa co-founded Browntourage, a new media platform and agency devoted to the conscious consumption and production of culture. The guiding philosophy and lifestyle around this work led to a stint as Director of Creative Strategy and Cultural Intelligence at ViacomCBS. Amin-Arsala was a 2021 SHIFT fellow at Somewhere Good—an emergent, 100% ad free social platform—studying the intersections of technology and social justice. That same year, a sabbatical took her job so that she could pursue research interests in decentralized learning environments, sharing occasional musings through her project Reality Streaming. With equity and anthropological study guiding her work, Hawa aims to detoxify the future through collaboration, innovation, and reorientation.