Thinking Inside the Box: DC Art Portal Lets People Meet Strangers Around the World

PHOTO: Shared_Studios "Portals" installation in Washington, DC. PlayABC News
WATCH Portal Art Exhibit Brings Strangers Face-to-Face from a World Away

Earlier this month, in a square in the middle of Washington, D.C., there was a box. ... And what was in it? The world. Or at least, it was pretty close.

Amar Bakshi, an artist with Shared Studios, created a web of “portals” inside gold-plated shipping containers with video connections to Tehran, Iran; Herat, Afghanistan; and Havana. For 20 minutes at a time, members of the public can go inside and simply talk to each other.

“It’s completely random,” Bakshi told ABC News’ John Donvan. “You don’t know if you’re going to go in there and speak to an 85-year-old professor or an 18-year-old who just works down the block.”

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Many come away with a new friend, like Angelina Feldman, who told ABC News, “It felt like we were right just across from each other. ... I wish we could do this in every country.”

Other experiences have been more poignant.

“People go in and they burst out crying,” said Bakshi. “That tends to be people like Iranian-Americans and Cuban-Americans, in particular, who have left their country and have not gone back, and are overwhelmed with this sort of emotion.”

While the sign-up process is completely random, Bakshi has noticed common conversation themes emerge.

“One of the topics they love to discuss is marriage and dating. I mean, America’s dating life is a real fascination.”

Bakshi said that the portals are designed to be pieces of art forging connections, rather than political centerpieces. But the experience continues to break down cultural barriers.

“We have people that come in that have not spoken to someone of the opposite gender in a room before. They do it here. And it’s OK because it’s not the same room.”

In the coming months, the portals will be travelling to New Haven, Connecticut; Nashville, Tennessee; and New York, allowing a larger audience the opportunity to, as Bakshi said, spend “20 minutes in a space to do nothing but admire, appreciate or dislike another human being as a piece of art.”