By Sharanya Gopinathan
Shamsia Hassani is one of Afghanistan’s leading graffiti artists (in fact, she’s also Afghanistan’s first female graffiti artist). Most of her work tends to depict women in burqas in drawn in symbolic shapes. Fishes and musical instruments are also recurring images in her work.
A lot of her graffiti also tends to be drawn on the remains and fragments of buildings destroyed by bombs and years of war. She said to BUST, “Being a woman in a country like Afghanistan is very complicated, especially for women who work outside. I feel danger all the time.” This makes her work feel doubly symbolic, meaningful and poignant. Her work strikes various tones: some are scary, others contemplative and dreamy, some hopeful, but all of the women she depicts always seem strong and very calm. Her Facebook page says that Afghanistan is a country famous for war, “so let’s change the topic”.
Her work also reminds me of the Egyptian project Women on Walls, a public art project that aimed at bringing images of strong women onto the walls of public spaces in Egypt, and to encourage female graffiti artists to participate in the political act of graffiti. While always a powerful political tool, graffiti in the Middle East became an extremely prevalent form of political protest in the years before and during the Arab Spring, and continues to be leveraged by artists across the Arab World.
Hassani has been involved in creating a national graffiti festival in Afghanistan and teaches a graffiti workshop at Kabul University, in addition to being an active member of the Kabul art scene. Check out the rest of her amazing work on Instagram.