The arts are societies’ most liberated and complex means of expression and the work of artists can help nations overcome long histories of reciprocal ignorance, distrust, insularity and conflict. I became interested in international cultural exchange in 2012 when I was invited by the State Department to represent the US as a visual artist during US Culture Days in Turkmenistan. Even with research, I couldn’t find out much about Turkmenistan, which borders with Iran and Afghanistan. I knew that it was difficult to get permission to enter, because of the volatility of the region.
In Ashgabat, I was joined by a Hopi jeweler, a chef from New York, scholars from the Smithsonian, and musicians representing the genres of Jazz, Rock and Bluegrass. We were greeted with extraordinary hospitality. The US delegation gave presentations, concerts, workshops and exhibitions, and Turkmen artists participated in numerous ways, culminating in a fabulous grand finale production by artists from both countries. As a member of the U.S. delegation, I conducted a presentation at the Fine Arts Academy, held an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Art, and visited the studios and galleries of professional Turkmen painters. It was a four-day whirlwind event, which was pivotal for me, as I have a new interest in this kind of exchange between countries. If you would like to learn a bit more about this experience, check out this video that I made upon my return.