Artist to Hand Out 10,000 Balloons in Kabul, Afghanistan

Pink balloons filled with messages will be handed out to residents of Kabul.

March 4, 2013, 11:07 AM

March 11, 2013— -- Thousands of hot pink balloons will envelop the city of Kabul, Afghanistan, sometime this spring, as a New York-based artist attempts to bring hope and celebration in the form of balloons to the war-torn city.

Yazmany Arboleda, who has produced balloon art installations around the world, will hand out 10,000 balloons filled with messages from supporters around the world. The balloons will be given to adult residents of the city as they go to work one surprise Monday morning, Arboleda told ABC News.

"Across cultures and across languages and color, people respond to balloons," Arboleda said. "There is this thing about them that is magical, that speaks about the idea of hope and innocence and childhood and playfulness. For me that's it, that's what we're trying to impart."

"The idea really is to do it Monday morning, the lowest point in the nervous system, to go into that moment, creating intervention where people have a moment to reflect, to hold onto the balloon and bring it into the office, mechanic shop, bakery," Arboleda said. "We're used to seeing balloons held by children, but with adults it makes you question what is happening, and for onlookers it's a sort of shared joy."

The date of the balloon project is being kept secret by the network of volunteers and the city in order to protect it from any possible threats, including the Taliban, Arboleda said.

Arboleda, 31, who was raised in Colombia and the United States but has studied design and art throughout Europe, has mounted similar installations in Bangalore, India, where he used orange balloons to represent saffron and Buddhist monk colors; in Yamaguchi, Japan, where he used green balloons to represent the culture's appreciation of green spaces; and in Nairobi, Kenya, where he used yellow balloons to represent the culture's premiere resource, gold, and to contrast with the city's color scheme.

"So in Afghanistan it will be hot pink because it's the color of empowerment for women, and the softness of pink is very important," he said. "But also the palate of the city of Kabul is brown, earth tones, light brown and mellow yellows. The idea of pink will pop against that background."

The installations require months of planning, he said. Arboleda reached out to young artists in Kabul to help plan the event, artists who helped enlist the Afghan Women's Network and Young Women for Change as sponsors. In the month leading up to the actual balloon project, Arboleda and dozens of other artists will hold a series of workshops and panel discussions with women in Kabul.

"There is one that includes a 'women in public spaces' discussions where we will have 500 women come out and share their thoughts about how they think and feel about these issues," Arboleda explained. "It's exclusive to women, to hear their truths, because it can be hard for them to speak if men are in the room."

Individuals from around the world can sponsor a balloon for one dollar, and upload a message of hope to be placed inside the balloon when it is inflated. Volunteers will instruct Kabul residents to pop the balloons at the end of the day and read the messages before discarding the balloon, Arboleda said.

"If I was going to do this, I decided I would not do it alone and get funding from some museum or something, but that it would involve 10,000 individuals from around the world who believe in art and culture and the ability of art to move us forward," he said.

Individuals cannot purchase more than one balloon. Instead, they can pass on the website to their friends to create more supporters for the project.

The goal, Arboleda said, is to help show the shared humanity and beauty in Kabul and around the world, rather than the single image of war that has been associated with the city.

"We have this single story of catastrophe there," he said. "So we are also featuring an artist each day who is producing art and culture in Afghanistan to help three dimensionalize the story of what Afghanistan is to the rest of the world."

After the installation in Kabul, Arboleda and his team hope to bring balloons to Brussels, Colombia, and New York.

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