Building Bridges Across Cultures for Sustainable Development

Encouraging sustainable international development—which ultimately benefits women and girls by ensuring greater access to health and rights—requires breaking down barriers, building understanding and relationships, and encouraging new and diverse perspectives to be shared across the globe.

After hosting and attending a very special international event last night, I am filled with hope that we are one step closer to reaching each of these goals.

Last night, the international student photography exhibition Celebrations of Diversity, Homeland, and Identity featured over 20 images from emerging artists at American University, the University of the District of Columbia, and the female-only Dar Al-Hekma College in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The exhibit facilitated new and interesting cross-cultural exchanges and interactions. A photograph from a young woman in Saudi Arabia changed the way I view South Africa. And next month, someone in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia may be impacted by the works of a student from American University. Each image relates to themes of sharing cultures, crossing borders, and use photography as a visual medium to tell a story. And every one of us has a story.

For me, this is at the root of any conversation about international development and sustainability. The moment I am affected by someone’s perspective, I have a heightened interest in the experience that lead them to the perspective in their photograph. This experience, just like my own, is shaped by their community’s ability to provide a healthy environment, economic opportunity, education, and gender empowerment.

We decided to take the experience a step further to highlight international development and sustainability in a bold way. Photography exhibitions like Celebrations of Diversity, Homeland, and Identity create a space where we can talk about these larger and oftentimes overwhelming issues while, at the same time, experiencing the humanity that connects us in the fleeting moment of a photograph. We partnered with Vort Port International for a silent auction to ensure that we connected the dots between the exhibition and these issues of international development and sustainability.  As part of the Madagascar Project., proceeds from the photographs will be used to bring renewable energy to women who otherwise have to trek for miles to fetch firewood.

Because of this, every photograph sold holds the story of its past – that of the the artist, that of the the culture it depicts, and that of the photograph’s unique perspective.  And every purchased photograph also has a story of the future – one of sustainability, education, and empowerment.

I hope this exhibit and the collaborations and relationships it has fostered will act as a launching pad for others working across borders—not only the borders we have built ourselves, but also those that restrict us from the outside—to build strength in the themes of diversity, homeland, and identity through both the arts and international sustainability. Hopefully that will be the theme of our collective story.

The exhibit will be up for one week at Gallery 42 on UDC campus before it will travel to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and be on exhibition December 4th through 9th, 2010.  The Saudi Launch Party will benefit the Zahra Breast Cancer Association. For more information please visit us on facebook.



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