Shamsia Hassani, one of Afghanistan’s first female street artists, is aiming to make the country she calls home “famous with art, not by war” with her vibrant murals depicting women as strong, independent figures.
A lecturer at Kabul University, the Afghan graffiti artist is known internationally for her stunning murals depicting the identity of females in a male-dominated society. Her aim is to project women with a face of power and ambitions, with a willingness to achieve goals.
Born in Iran, Shamsia Hassani was denied the opportunity to study art there because of her nationality. She returned home and eventually embraced graffiti in 2010 after attending the first street art workshop in Afghanistan, held by UK street artist Chu. Since that early encounter, she has developed her own distinctive style, using paint and colour to raise the issue of women’s rights.
Many of Shamsia Hassani’s murals 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, Shamsia Hassani believes painting women in public can encourage other people to look at women differently.
In an interview with Art Radar Journal, Shamsia Hassani explained: “I have changed my images to show the strength of women, the joy of women. In my artwork, there is lots of movement. I want to show that women have returned to Afghan society with a new, stronger shape.
“It’s not the woman who stays at home. It’s a new woman. A woman who is full of energy, who wants to start again. You can see that in my artwork, I want to change the shape of women. I am painting them larger than life. I want to say that people look at them differently now.”
Colour is also prominent in Shamsia Hassani’s art, as she uses the vibrancy of graffiti to cover up the negative reminders of the war from people’s minds. She especially uses blue in many of her paintings because the colour is associated with freedom. And for Shamsia Hassani, freedom is not the removal of the burqa, freedom is to have peace.
She says: “It’s hard to use art to stop war, but I believe we can change lots of people’s minds and share our ideas; we can say to them that art can bring change.”
Shamsia Hassani’s murals have adorned murals small shops and grandiose facades of old palaces, to name a few, but fighting for peace and freedom for Afghanistan’s women through art is not always an easy task. For that reason, the artist has also created fantasy graffiti — taking photographs of places she’d like to paint on, and then using digital means to produce her artwork.
Now 30, the street artist has been fortunate to have travelled the world with her art and has inspired women worldwide, as well as in Afghanistan, where she is empowering women and leading the way for a new wave of female Afghan artists to paint their path.
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea