Shipping Containers Provide Portals to Other Cultures

A gold shipping container glistens in the sunlight outside The Clarice as visitors take turns entering the storage unit.  

This gold container is, unusually, not being used for storage, but rather as a hub of communication as part of the global public art project, “Shared Studios.”

Featured as part of The Clarice’s NextNOW Fest,Shared Studios” is a portal system, which allows participants to step into the shipping container for 20 minutes at a time and speak to strangers, who stand in identical containers, across the world.

Shared Studios is a collaborative global art project that utilizes shipping containers as “portals” to connect people in the U.S. with people from cities in Afghanistan, Iran, Honduras and Mexico.

Friday night’s Shared Studios collaboration allowed participants to interact with people in Mexico City.

The creator of Shared Studios, Amar Bakshi, said that he began work on the first portal eight months ago between New York and Tehran, Iran. He said that the idea of the portals is to feel like you are in the same space as someone in another.

“The hope is to approximate the feeling of being in the same room,” he said. “The idea is to make these as a permanent infrastructure of identical spaces in public squares in locations around the world.”

Michelle Moghtader is the director of global development and one of the co-founders of the project. She said that when she wrote about Iran as a journalist for Reuters, that she felt limited by the news of what the moment demanded.

“I’d always wanted to tell stories about Iran’s art scene and cultural scene,” she said.

Moghtader said that Iranians and Americans would always ask about what the culture was like in the other country, and that Shared Studios is a good way to increase understanding between the people in these countries.

“The most meaningful part [was] to see a lot of these artists in Iran who are not known internationally, to allow them to showcase their art to collectors in New York and to professors at Yale Art School,” she said.

Inside each container is a screen the size of an entire side of the shipping container, where participants can communicate with designated strangers from another country. They can speak freely, walk around and make eye contact throughout the process.

Isha Kamara, a freshman kinesiology major, was unsure if she would need a translator before she went inside the shipping container. Afterwards, she said that the two people she spoke to understood English, so conversation came easily.

“We all just asked what we were interested in,” she said. “I was surprised to find out that they’re not much different from us at all.”

Kamara talked about school, and said that she heard from a friend that college in Mexico was free. She was surprised to find, however, that public universities there aren’t held to the same standard as this university.

Ian McElwee, a 2014 graduate who majored in civil engineering, said that he ended up discussing hookup apps like tinder and grindr during his time in the portal with someone from Mexico City.

“I found out that they were basically just like us,” he said. “The young adult culture is almost the same as over here.”

Featured Photo Credit: Ryan Eskalis, Bloc Reporter.

Alex Carolan is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at

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