Faces of Afghanistan
Alumnus Skip Rohde captures the human side of America's longest running war
Skip Rohde (Class of 2003, BFA with a concentration in painting) is in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, as an adviser with the U.S. Department of State. A non-traditional student, Rohde enrolled in UNC Asheville's Department of Art after a long career in the Navy. Today, he serves as a government employee on a one-year contract, helping the leadership of Afghanistan at the tribal and regional levels.
Rohde often sketches during meetings and in his off-time. Normally an oil painter, he captures the scenes and people he encounters through his work.
In His Own Words:
I work directly for the Department of State as a government employee. I'm on a one-year contract to provide advice and assistance to the Afghans to help them get their government functioning. I'm now in Maiwand district, which is the Wild West of Kandahar Province in southern Afghanistan. We're on the border with Helmand Province. This area is extremely dry. The main cash crop for the farmers is poppy -- everything else is subsistence. Over half our district is under Taliban control.
As to my art degree, I have always done art, ever since I was a kid. I even studied it for a while my first time through college, but the program stunk and I thought artists were weird. So I got a degree in engineering instead. After I'd been in the Navy for 15 years or so, I started thinking about what I'd do after retirement, and eventually decided that it would be art. I looked at a variety of schools across the eastern half of the United States and chose UNC Asheville. Asheville was the type of city we were looking for, and UNC Asheville had a really strong program. It was a good choice, too.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban is not exactly a political or ideological movement anymore, it's more like the Crips or Bloods: a brutal gang of thugs and narcotics traffickers. My military colleagues deal very effectively with the insurgents, while I work with the district governor and groups of elders to get their processes working.
The people here have wonderful faces: rough, expressive, sometimes friendly, sometimes with the cold, hard stare that tells you he would like nothing more than to kill you." —Skip Rohde, Class of 2003
The job is immensely challenging. And frustrating. After all these years, we're still taking baby steps. Our timetable is being driven, not by accomplishments, but by the calendar: both of our nations have agreed to a schedule that will be met, regardless of whether anybody is ready or not. So we are doing all we can to develop their capabilities before we pull back.
I have been fortunate to be able to see a good bit of this region. Some areas and some organizations are pretty well developed. In others, we consider it a coup if the guy shows up for work once a week. So are we making progress? Yes. Is it enough? I do not know. Define "enough."
Still, I find time to draw. I have always been a figurative artist, and I want the figures that I draw to tell stories about who they are. I hit the mother lode in Afghanistan. The people here have wonderful faces: rough, expressive, sometimes friendly, sometimes with the cold, hard stare that tells you he would like nothing more than to kill you.
Sometimes when I'm in a meeting, I'll draw the people around me. That's a great time because they're in one place and usually focused on the discussion. And it's safe. I can't draw when we go outside the wire because we don't stay still, and I have to be alert the whole time. Even 30-second gesture drawings are out of the question. But I can draw during meetings and again in my room. I got my pastels a couple of months ago and have really enjoyed working with them. It's great to work in color again.
This fall, I'll return home to the Asheville area. I want to set up a studio again and break out my oil paints. And I would like to put together a traveling exhibition of the drawings I've done here. You can see them on my website, www.skiprohde.com, as well as on my studio FaceBook page, www.facebook.com/Studio.of.Skip.Rohde.