Voices from Afghanistan

Voices from Afghanistan highlights letters sent by citizens of Afghanistan to Radio Azadi, the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. These letters capture the concerns and hopes of ordinary citizens in Afghanistan living under the extraordinarily difficult conditions of conflict and war. Unable to control the larger forces that maintain and perpetuate the conflict, Afghans attempt to put some order into their daily lives—the school boy who complains about the broken window in his school demonstrates how the bitter cold is his worst enemy; the school teacher seeking to help his students writes about corruption that enables unskilled individuals to take the place of good teachers. Afghans also channel their emotions into activities that bring them some respite and give them a sense of joy, such as music, poetry, and art.

However dire the situation, Afghans are invariably courteous and generous. They send greetings to the broadcasters of Radio Azadi, poems, proverbs, bits of traditional wisdom, and medical advice to thank them for broadcasting the music they love to hear. Audio stations in the exhibition broadcast sample Radio Azadi news programs and Afghan music heard by people throughout the country.

The letters that Afghans write often adapt a traditional style that is both beautiful and ornate. In this exhibition the new letters are displayed alongside examples of older, often richly illuminated and calligraphed texts. These items attest to the centrality of poetry and the written word in such traditional formats as schools and accordion books, still being produced today. The illumination of the contemporary letters demonstrates a continuation of the decorative tradition focusing on floral patterns that go back hundreds of years.

In the eight years since the U.S. Congress established Radio Azadi as part of an effort to help build a peaceful and democratic society, the station has received more than 15,000 letters from its listeners. This exhibition celebrates the donation of these letters to the Library of Congress, which has a long history of collecting and preserving materials from this region, and the addition of this unique group of letters enriches and complements these collections with contemporary perspectives.