When you read a story, the plot, character development, and setting delicately unfold. The same can happen with a multimedia project that not only tells a story but reveals hidden visuals that digitally present the story of individuals and the city they live in: Kabul.
Kabul Portraits is a multimedia project that uses narrative, video, audio, “memories,” and “possessions” in order to tell the stories of six Afghan artists, ranging from filmmakers to visual painters to actresses. By creating a digital space for these artists’ interactive portraits, Afghan-Canadian filmmaker Ariel Nasr and NFB Digital Studio’s Jeremy Mendes expand the traditional notion of portraiture.
In painter Mohammad Akram’s world, you are led through his possessions and find small mounds of crushed lapis, brick, and charcoal—ingredients for the mud paints Mohammad prefers to create with. Mohammad expresses that the use of these ingredients “point more directly at the heart of Afghanistan.” You will also find a mortar and pestle made from the parts of a broken-down car. On the other side of his room is a collection of acrylic paints, unused. You can navigate other mediums of his story, too, and develop a full picture of his personal propensity for painting with mud. In Mohammad’s audio recording, he tells you that “Afghanistan’s mud depicts the sorrow and pain of its people very well. I don’t know whether the mud I am using today is someone’s brother who has become dust.”
Yasmin Yarmal, a television and film actress, similarly expresses aspects of her life in different mediums of storytelling. In her video, you can watch her preparing for her work day by massaging lotion onto her cheeks and applying makeup before shooting a scene. In her memories, you will find a chronological archive of her life as an actress in Kabul.
Meanwhile, in Yasmin’s possessions, you will learn that television access can be limited in Afghanistan, a reality that has made her career strenuous. But you will learn that since the Taliban’s fall, those with access to television has risen to 48 percent of the population, and Yasmin herself stars in two television dramas.
The design of the Kabul Portraits is truly stunning and unfolds in an intuitive but also creatively challenging manner. Its form resembles an origami fortune-teller laid open and flat, its flaps containing parts of the larger story, a story that has multiple layers. The geometric tile pattern at the hectagon’s center brings together the beating heart of the project, the all-encompassing story: the city of Kabul itself, and what it means for the artists who have committed their lives to their respective crafts to live there.