Ida Yousofi, Ashley Kiani, Joseph Ritch, and Bahareh Ghonsul outside the Shared Studios portal to Tehran
On the morning of September 9th, senior Joseph Ritch and Bahareh Ghonsul entered this gold painted shipping container and stepped into Iran. A “wormhole” had been opened between College Park, MD, and Tehran, at least digitally. Inside the container was a screen and camera with a live feed of a complete stranger named Ali, 30, in Tehran.
“Talking to a total stranger in another part of the world seems intimidating at first, but it quickly makes you realize how similar we all are,” Ritch said of the experience. “Ali spoke proudly about his young daughter throughout the conversation.”
“Even though we had never met prior to our talk in the portal, it was really easy to connect and communicate with him,” reflected Ghonsul on the conversation with Ali.
Ghonsul immigrated to the United States from Iran at a young age, so the portal gave her a glimpse into how that had impacted her. “Learning about his life and how he’s married and how he recently became a dad made me realize how much my own life would have been different had I never immigrated to the U.S.”
Shared Studios, a multidisciplinary arts, design, and technology collective was hosted by The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland as part of the NextNow festival. Shared Studios has used these shipping containers to open a network of connections between cities across the world. Everyday people can sign up for a 20 minute session, in which they are paired with another person across the world for a conversation. According to Michelle Moghtader, Director of Global Development and co-founder of Shared Studios, about 400 people participated in the Portal including people from UMD, College Park; Washington D.C.; Herat, Afghanistan; Tehran, Iran; Mexico City, Mexico and El Progreso Honduras.
At the University, the Arts Department, the Clarice Performing Arts Center and the Roshan Institute helped to get the word out across College Park. This close network also opened the door for creative collaboration. “[W]e were able to have access to a myriad of people ranging from artists to journalists to literature experts,” said Moghtader. “One that stands out is a collaborations between two dancers and a hip hop band in Herat, Afghanistan,” she continued.
The group, Fist Band, rapped in Dari, while Colette Krogol and her husband, Matthew Reeves responded to the music with dance.
A recent song by Fist Band from Herat, Afghanistan
Another night, a traditional Afghan musical group performed through the Portal. Moghtader gathered an audience of about ten people into the Portal to listen. When the group was finished, they asked if anyone in College Park was interested in performing for them. “I ran out and asked anyone if they could sing or perform,” Moghtader said. “I chanced upon a beautiful singer who performed Martin Luther King Jr.’s favorite hymn for us and our counterparts in Afghanistan.”
As technological advances and increasing mobilization make the world a more global community, this exhibit was intended to connect average people across the world. Amar C. Bakshi, the designer of the exhibit, graduated from Harvard in 2006 as the first joint major in Social Studies and Visual and Environmental Studies, after which he began working at theWashington Post and later as the Special Assistant to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. After returning to media at CNN.com, Bakshi began connecting people around the world through video technology. In December 2014, Shared Studios launched the first of these portals, connecting strangers from different parts of the world.
In addition to these portals, Shared Studios has planned two other similar initiatives to unite the world: channels, which are large bidirectional walls that allow pedestrians to see similar streets in similar cities in real time, and phonos, which are spheres of continuous audio connection, allowing pedestrians to listen to sounds from a different place and even talk with others across these distances.
“The most interesting part of our conversation for me was the very last question he asked us which was ‘what makes you happy?’” Ghonsul stated. “By asking that question he made me think about all of the things that make me happy in my life”