2018 11 09 - 2019 01 13

Jonas Dovydėnas: 11 Trips to Afghanistan

Jonas Dovydėnas
11 trips to Afghanistan


In 1979 the Soviet Union brought its army into Afghanistan to support a government of pro-communist insurgents. This is how the first war between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union started. The opposition forces of the time - Muslim guerrillas or Mojaheds - were supported by the West and wealthy Arab countries. Although the Soviet Union lost the war and withdrew its forces in 1989, peace was not restored. Afghanistan has since become a crossroads of wars, upheavals and political power struggles. Great powers of the world, such as the Soviet Union, the USA, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan often supported Afghanistan's internal struggles in order to reinforce their own political interests. Meanwhile, the weak governments erected in the country have failed to establish a functioning state: parliament, courts, police and army have never served as pillars of support for the country. Following the war with the Soviet Union, Islam remained the single force of unity for the country's tribes and ethnic groups. This circumstance significantly enforced the Islamic influence upon social policies. In the 1990s the formation of the political-religious organisation, known as the Taliban, began in religious schools located in the mountains of Pakistan. The strengthening of this organisation condemned Afghanistan to cruel and long lasting internal struggles, turning the country into a source of Islamic terrorism. After the tragic terrorist attacks in the USA on 11 September 2001, Afghanistan again became a centre of concern for the international community. The United Nations Council sent international peacekeepers to support governmental forces and ensure the protection of civil populations. Since 2002, Lithuanian troops have also participated in international operations there.

In 1985, a Lithuanian-born American photographer Jonas Dovydėnas visited Afghanistan for the first time, finding a country exhausted by wars, political struggle and chaos. The photographer claimed to have seen parallels between Afghanistan's war with the Soviet Union and the post-war Lithuanian guerrilla resistance movement. This attitude corresponds with the origins of the photographer. The story of Dovydėnas and his family is a typical one for World War II: in 1944, as the front and Soviet army were drawing closer, the photographer's father, famous interwar writer Liudas Dovydėnas together with his family fled to the West. Dovydėnas family spent five years in refugee camps in Western Germany, where Jonas started school, until the family moved to the USA in 1949. Like many Lithuanian emigrants in the USA, the young Dovydėnas developed an idealistic attitude towards his home country and now unconditionally supports the idea of free Lithuania. It is, therefore, easy to understand why the photographer saw the struggle of the culturally distant people of Afghanistan, against the Soviet Union, as resembling the post war Lithuanian guerrilla movement.

The photographer's experience in Afghanistan extended over more than 20 years - he visited the country nearly 11 times - and it has become an important part of his creative legacy. The chronologically arranged photographs presented at the exhibition offer only a fraction of this extensive archive.
 Dovydėnas is a representative of the 20th century American photography school. His teachers include such remarkable figures of US photography as Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. Given his background, when he came to Afghanistan for the first time he was already an experienced  freelance photographer. Thus, both the American school and the photographer's personal skills have  influenced his visual narrative about this country. Further, there is little politics in Dovydėnas' photographs: his images tell a story of the country's people, to whom the war has become part of everyday life. War is not restricted to fighters planning an attack on an enemy in the mountains - it also includes the street markets, children at school, ordinary people travelling, preparing meals, gathering for feasts or neighbourly conversations.

Dovydėnas' photographs are a witness to a war that lasted for over 30 years, or, more precisely, they demonstrate the consequences of war, as there are few pictures depicting actual battles. The photographer's attention is drawn to the incurable marks this chaos scars on the bodies and fates of people, as well as on the country's landscape. The work is a photographic narrative presenting the country as seen through the eyes of a Westerner.

Curators: Goda Aksamitauskaitė, Ieva Mazūraitė-Novickienė

Graphic designer Laura Grigaliūnaitė

Organizer National Gallery of Art

This project was partly financed by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania and the Lithuanian Council for Culture

Sponsor Exterus, Imparat