Looking Like Me

Shamsia Hassani: First Female Street Artist Of Afghanistan Paints Hijabs On Walls To Express Feminism

If one were to ask the general American to picture Afghanistan, most would probably see dilapidated ruins left behind after a barrage of bombs dropped by American forces. They would also probably see the stern faces of Afghani citizens living in such a situation, day after day. Though such a view seems stereotypical, it is actually true as shown in recent pictures of the country’s urban areas.

To this day, Afghanistan is still recovering from the onslaught of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Whether Americans, or the world, believes it was necessary or not, it did leave the country mostly in shambles. Fortunately, Afghanistan has their fair share of creative people, and some of them have taken to the ruined walls of their cities to express their beliefs through creative means. One group of artists, known as the “Art Lords,” paint the walls of Afghan cities as a means of helping to “heal them,” as reported by Voice of America.

However, there is one street artist in Afghanistan who is getting a lot of attention recently, and her name is Shamsia Hassani. She is the country’s first female street artist, and she uses her talents to paint hijabs on walls to express feminism.

Shamsia Hassani - Secret
Shamsia Hassani is pictured here, posing just like the woman in her street art shown behind her. [Image via Kabul Art Project]
All one has to do is look at the pictures of Shamsia Hassani’s paintings in her gallery at the Kabul Art Project to see just how talented she is. Born in 1988, Hassani work has been featured internationally. She even provides a statement on what she paints to the project too.

“Usually I am painting women with burqas in modernism shape on walls, I want to talk about their life, to find some way to remove them from darkness, to open their mind, to bring some positive changes, trying to remove all bad memories of war from everybody’s mind with covering sad city’s walls with happy colors.”

Though women with burqas may come off as a central theme to her art, Shamsia Hassani is actually sending a message to the world with them too, especially in the United States. Right now, there is an argument if burqas and hijabs should be banned. Conservatives argue it is hard to identify people who wear such garments. They paint scenarios of Islamic terrorists traversing freely in public under the guise of wearing burqas and hijabs. Hassani wants to refute those Western assumptions, as reported by Huffington Post.

“There are a lot of people around the world who think that the burqa is the problem. They think that if women remove the burqa, then they have no problems. But this is not true. I feel that there are lots of problems in Afghanistan for women. For example, when women cannot have access to education, this is more of a problem then wearing a burqa.”

Shamsia Hassani - Painting on Wall
Every day, local Afghani people pass street art created by Shamsia Hassani. Some of her works were made in very dangerous areas of the city. [Image via Kabul Art Project]
Probably the most inspiring detail about Shamsia Hassani’s art isn’t the art itself, but what she goes through to express her artistic passion. Hassani must constantly confront a majority of people who believe a woman’s place is in the home. To avoid most conflict, Hassani uses a method she calls “dreaming graffiti” in which she paints on digital images of city structures. That doesn’t mean Hassani does not go out to paint though. When Hassani is out, she must be careful to avoid not just the majority mentioned above, but dangers left behind from war. A lone wall may seem harmless, but there might be landmines buried in the land Hassani must traverse to get to it. It is also dangerous for Shamsia Hassani to go out at night since that is the time the bombings happen.

Shamsia Hassani is the current artist-in-residence at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, California. Her graffiti series, “Secret,” “Birds of No Nation,” and “Once Upon a Time,” are featured there. Hassani is even up for the Artraker Award, which seeks to support artists working in conflict zones or whose works deals with issues of conflict.

[Image via Kabul Art Project]