Why artist Aman Mojadidi is “Afghan by blood, redneck by the grace of God” – ARTonAIR podcast interview

Aman Mojadidi shares his unique artistic journey in a 2012 podcast interview with online radio station ARTonAIR host Will Corwin.

Born and raised in Jacksonville, Florida in the United States, Aman Mojadidi has been living in Kabul, Afghanistan for more than a decade. Through his multidisciplinary works, Mojadidi explores Afghan politics and cross-cultural identity.

Aman Mojadidi​ and Lorenzo Tugnoli, 'What Histories Lay Beneath Our Feet?', 2012, mixed media ​installation​. Photo by Benjamin Pritchard.

Aman Mojadidi​ and Lorenzo Tugnoli, ‘What Histories Lay Beneath Our Feet?’, 2012, mixed media ​installation​. Photo by Benjamin Pritchard.

Click here to listen to the full podcast interview on ARTonAIR.

The radio interview opens with a discussion about Mojadidi’s site-specific installation What Histories Lay Beneath Our Feet?, an artwork that was commissioned for the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale in India in 2012. In this work, Mojadidi combined historical research into the region and his own family background going back 800 years with the story of a fictional son of his real life ancestor. “I created an entire narrative about this person,” he explains. “He was ostracised from the family and he ended up going back to India and settling in Kochi.”

The final artwork took the form of an archaeological dig, during which he “found” planted and genuine artifacts.

So the entire archaeological excavation was searching for [the fictional character’s] home, which in the narrative had become a kind of a humanist commune. […] It was very personal, but it was also speaking to politics, religion and different kinds of ideologies that dealt with India and Afghanistan as well as my own family.”

Inspired by his academic background in cultural anthropology, Mojadidi explores his bi-cultural upbringing in two 2011 photography series that he also discusses in the interview. “I grew up in US feeling very Afghan. Now it’s been ten years, I’m in Afghanistan, and I feel less Afghan,” the artist says. The photographic series “Afghan By Blood, Redneck by the Grace of God” was “playing upon this complication and this contradiction within my own personality or identity.” For “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster”, he created a Jihadi gangster persona by juxtaposing brash items of adornment such as big pieces of gold jewellery, what he describes as “Jihadi bling,” against conflict items like gold-washed guns and prosthetic legs.

Aman Mojadidi, 'Defendin' the Good Ole' South', "Afghan By Blood, Redneck by the Grace of God (edition of 3)', 2011, 100 x 103 cm.

Aman Mojadidi, ‘Defendin’ the Good Ole’ South’, “Afghan By Blood, Redneck by the Grace of God (edition of 3)’, 2011, 100 x 103 cm.

Aman Mojadidi worked in humanitarian and non-governmental organisations in various roles in the 1990s and 2000s and only began to practice art again a few years after permanently settling in Kabul. He set up a home studio and began to meet people who were making and interested in art. “Since I was a bit tired of these institutional development structures and all the kind of complications that come with development and humanitarian aid,” he says in the ARTonAIR interview. “I thought it would be nice if I could merge my art making with my day job.” He started to work independently and with various organisations to develop residency, exhibition, workshop and other opportunities for local and international artists.

According to Mojadidi, today’s art movement in Kabul has a “significant number of people who are making art, who are interested in contemporary art.” He has played a crucial role in Kabul’s resurgent art scene; among his many achievements he helped to “set up the first kind of contemporary art competition” in Afghanistan that sought to identify the nation’s leading contemporary artists.

“In Afghanistan, the word used for contemporary, it’s more in a temporal sense,” he explains, “so contemporary just means art made today.” He hopes, however, to see local artists explore art forms outside of the “landscape realism style of art” that predominates the scene. As he explains in the video interview,

“For me, contemporary art is someone who wanted to paint something beyond the old town bazaar, more than the old man with the long beard holding the flower. […] It was just to see who’s interested in doing work that’s different than that.”

Aman Mojadidi, 'After a Long Day's Work', "A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster (edition of 5)", 2010, 75 x 78 cm.

Aman Mojadidi, ‘After a Long Day’s Work’, “A Day in the Life of a Jihadi Gangster (edition of 5)”, 2010, 75 x 78 cm.

In the past few decades, “a lot of the female artists were addressing women’s issues in terms of thematics,” says Mojadidi. “Themes or paintings about peace” were also popular. The opening of a centre for contemporary art by a local academic in 2003 brought new ideas to local artists. Today, says, Mojadidi, you see a wide range of mediums: installation, video, performance and street art, contemporary calligraphy and miniature painting.

There is still a lot that needs to be done, he urges, before the art scene will reach a stage where it will be artist-driven:

“I think it still needs a lot of time before it’s something that is really kind of led by the artist. There’s this dependency culture in Afghanistan because of all the aid money that has come in. So a lot of times, even in the art scene or art sector, artists are waiting for the donor to come with the money before they do something or make something.”

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

Charlotte Queck

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Related Topics: Afghani artists, American artists, podcast interviews with artists

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