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Mon, Mar 27



Building Community: How the Arts Can Help Afghan Refugees

A conversation on how the arts can help Afghan refugees recover from the trauma they have suffered and rebuild their lives in new places.

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Building Community: How the Arts Can Help Afghan Refugees
Building Community: How the Arts Can Help Afghan Refugees

Time & Location

Mar 27, 2023, 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM EDT

Philadelphia, 3803 Locust Walk, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA

About the Event

When the US abruptly withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, leaving it to Taliban rule, many activists and artists had no choice but to flee their homes and livelihoods. They are among the two million Afghan refugees and asylum seekers scattered across the world, and another two million displaced internally.

In this Global Lens cultural program, Jahan Ara Rafi, an Afghan artist resettled in the United States, and Valerie Plesch, a photojournalist who has documented the experiences of Afghan refugees, will look at how the arts can connect members of the global Afghan diaspora with each other, as well as the future of the arts in Afghanistan itself.

Join Perry World House and the refugee advocacy group One Journey for this conversation on how the arts can help Afghan refugees to recover from the trauma they have suffered and rebuild their lives in new places.

A reception will follow the public program.


Jahan Ara Rafi is an Afghan artist and co-founder of the Centre for Women Artists in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her work focuses on the identities and social roles forced upon women. In 2016, Rafi became an art teacher at the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA), the first boarding school for girls in Kabul and funded by the US Embassy. Rafi was forced to flee Afghanistan in August 2021 when the Taliban took control of the capital, while SOLA was shut down and now operates in exile in Rwanda. Previously, Rafi was a member of the Centre for Contemporary Arts of Afghanistan and holds a BA from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Kabul University. In 2014, she and other female artists established the Shamama Art Gallery, a gathering place that engaged the community and promoted the arts as a cornerstone of community creativity and development. Since being evacuated to the US, Rafi hopes to resume her career as an artist and exhibited last June at a One Journey event at the Kennedy Center.

Valerie Plesch is a freelance Vietnamese-Argentine American photojournalist, documentary photographer, and writer currently based in northern Virginia. Since early 2021, she has documented the growing Afghan community in the Washington, DC region, including the resettlement of Afghan refugees and asylum seekers before and after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan. In 2022, she was awarded a Pulitzer Center reporting grant to cover the one year anniversary of the fall of Kabul through stories about Afghans who had evacuated to the United States. From 2014 to 2019, she was based in Pristina, Kosovo, where she focused on the aftermath of war, including the legacy of sexual violence, and covered breaking news, human rights issues, religion, sports, politics, and culture. Before pursuing her passion for visual storytelling, Plesch held a decade-long career in the international development field. Her work took her to post-conflict and post-disaster countries including Afghanistan, where she lived for one year, Pakistan, Indonesia and Haiti. Valerie holds a master's degree in journalism from the Columbia University School of Journalism and a bachelor's degree in political science from Colorado College.


Peter Decherney is Professor of Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Faculty Director of Penn’s university-wide Online Learning Initiative. He holds a secondary appointment at the Annenberg School for Communication and an affiliation with the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Competition at Penn Law School. He is the author or editor of six books including Hollywood’s Copyright Wars: From Edison to the Internet and Hollywood: A Very Short Introduction. Decherney has also written for the New York Times, Forbes, Inside Higher Ed, and other publications.  He is an award-winning documentary and virtual reality filmmaker. Since 2015, he has directed a series of documentary and virtual reality films about global migration and on the political role of artists in Myanmar, Kenya, Ethiopia, and the US. Decherney has been an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scholar, a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, and a US State Department Arts Envoy to Myanmar.


Perry World House is following the University of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 guidelines. In-person access to our hybrid events is now open to the public as well as the Penn community.

In keeping with the University’s latest update on COVID-19 protocols, masks are optional for all visitors to Perry World House. PennOpen Pass and PennOpen Campus screenings are no longer required for entry to our events.

We will continue to provide virtual access to all events planned with hybrid programming. Zoom details will be available in your order confirmation email.

Please note that our current arrangements are subject to change as guidelines evolve, and other restrictions may be put in place. We will share an email ahead of each event with the latest information on how to take part. If you have any questions, please contact us at If you are not already on our mailing list for news and updates, you can sign up here.

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