mural artwork by Shamsia Hassani

Shamsia Hassani – voice of the Afghan woman

One of Afganistan’s first well-known female graffiti artists, Shamsia Hassani creates vibrant murals and paintings portraying women as strong, autonomous beings. In all her work, Hassani usually paints women in Burqas and endeavors to reveal the woman under the burqa. She often draws women in symbolic shapes and adds symbols of the atmosphere that flows around her plus her life experiences.

Most of her murals often show women carrying and/or playing musical instruments which give them a voice for self-expression. Coming from a background where women are usually overlooked, Hassani believes painting women in public can encourage other people to look at women differently.

She uses blue in many of her paintings not only because it’s her favorite color but also because blue is associated with freedom. And for Hassani, freedom is not the removal of the burqa, freedom is to have peace.

Hassani also uses her own art to help convey positive changes to people and particularly to wash away the bad memories of a long long-time war that had occurred in her country.  Even today the place is not entirely safe as Hassani has had to leave some of her street art unfinished in the past to run for her safety.

And these days is not necessarily war, it is political unrest in her country that makes the streets unsafe. And some other times it’s simply because she’s a woman painting in the public space that puts her at risk. She’s reported herself that on several occasions’ people have verbally abused her and even tried to stop her from working.

But she has the will and the heart of a lion, she dreams and executes. Sometime back her family discouraged her from tagging a specific area on the grounds that a bomb had exploded nearby. Of course, it wasn’t safe for her to wait there. She took a photo of the wall, printed a massive image of it and used the picture as a canvas – how smart!

Her concept of working her graffiti out as paintings applied onto prints of pictures taken from various places created a collection she called ‘’Dreaming Graffiti’’. Works from this gallery are easy to transport because they do not adorn street walls. These images have made to exhibitions in the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, India, Vietnam, and the United States among others.

During her three-month residency at the Hammer Museum in the Los Angeles, Hassani met with local artists and her stay is appreciated by her mural at 4900 W. Adams Boulevard. She also exhibited her work at the Seyhoun Gallery, West Hollywood.

Her story was an inspiration to many and her connection to the Hammer community continues to develop. To the Afghan women, Shamsia Hassani continues to push for their recognition through art while giving them strength to overcome social oppression.

Biography

Born in 1988 in Tehran, Iran, Shamsia Hassani grew up in Afghanistan. She started graffiti in December 2010 when graffiti artist CHU made a visit from the United Kingdom in a workshop organized by Combat Communications in Kabul. Out of the 8 local artists that attended the work, Hassani has been the most outstanding out of her exemplary work and what she stands for. In 2009, she was once shortlisted for the Afghan Contemporary Art Prize.

She received her bachelor’s degree in Arts in 2010 and a master’s degree in Visual Arts in 2014 from Kabul University. She co-founded Berang Art Organization with the aim of promoting contemporary art and culture in Afghanistan through workshops, seminars, programs and exhibitions.