Featured Artist: Shamsia Hassani
Alongside with The ruins of war torn buildings of Afghanistan that tell the story of decades of misery faced by Afghans there is a hint of a new beginning. The beginning that is led by colorful representations and poetic quotes by Shamsia Hassani . She could be the first female Afghan graffiti artist, who has taken streets of Kabul as her canvas. Her profound imagery on ruined buildings reflects a series of stories, mostly the case of women in Afghanistan. Many of her graffiti’s represent women with burqa with sharp shoulders in decorated attire. Through her colorful graffiti Hassani tries to mask the negativity of war. She claims that, “image has more effect than words, and it’s a friendly way to fight.”She also uses her art to fight for women’s rights, reminding people of the tragedies women have faced and continue to face in Afghanistan.
Besides being a street artist, Shamsia is also fine arts lecturer, and the associate professor of Drawing and Anatomy Drawing at the Kabul University. She has exhibited her art in several countries including India, Iran, Germany, United States of America, Switzerland, Vietnam, Norway, Denmark, Turkey, and Italy, Canada, and in diplomatic missions in Kabul. Hassani paints graffiti in Kabul to bring awareness to the war years. In 2014, Hassani was named one of FP’s top 100 global thinkers.
Hassani was born in 1988 and spent her childhood in Iran where her parents had temporarily migrated, from Kandahar, Afghanistan during the war. Hassani showed interest in painting from a young age. While in the ninth grade, Hassani lacked access to art classes, as it was not permitted to Afghans in Iran. Upon her return to Kabul in 2005, she pursued a degree at Kabul University in arts. Shamsia holds a BA degree in Painting and a master’s degree in Visual Arts from Kabul University in Afghanistan.
Hassani got her chance to study Graffiti art during a workshop hosted by Chu, Graffiti artist from United Kingdom in 2010 in Kabul. She embraced the discipline and as per her Spray cans and stencils have more impact than traditional art, street art is available for everyone to witness and make comments regardless of any boundries. One of her works is on the walls of Kabul’s Cultural Centre features a burqa clad woman seated below a stairway. The inscription below it reads (in English), “The water can come back to a dried-up river, but what about the fish that died?”
In 2013 she told Art Radar: “I want to colour over the bad memories of war on the walls, and if I colour over these bad memories, then I erase [war] from people’s minds. I want to make Afghanistan famous for its art, not its war,”
Hassani who mainly depicts stylized, monumental images of women wearing burqas to show that women have returned to Afghan society with a new, stronger shape. It’s a new woman, a woman who is full of energy, who wants to start again.” In an interview, Hassani explained, “I believe there are many who forget all the tragedy women face in Afghanistan; that is why I use my paintings as a means to remind the people. I want to highlight the matter in the society, with paintings reflecting women in burqas everywhere. And I try to show them bigger than what they are in reality, and in modern forms, shaped in happiness, movement, maybe stronger. I try to make people look at them differently.”
As a female street artist, Hassani is often harassed: “It is very dangerous for a girl to paint in the streets in Kabul,” she says; “Sometimes people come and harass me; they don’t think it is allowed in Islam for a woman to stand in the street and do graffiti.”
Hassani also does fantasy graffiti. In an interview she had said “If you stand in the street, you face problems; because of this I started a new style of graffiti. I take pictures of places I like in the city, open them in Photoshop, and do digital designs. Or I print out a picture of the street and then do graffiti with a paintbrush. If you scan it back, it looks like real graffiti, but of course it isn’t. in her fantasy Graffiti she mostly explores the issues of national and personal security”.