Art Radar profiles six exciting artists from Afghanistan.
Based in Germany, Kabul Art Projects supports and promotes Afghan contemporary artists on the international stage. Art Radar selected 6 among the most innovative artists in their roster.
Afghanistan’s contemporary art scene started to see a resurgence after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, an event that ushered in the possibility for more freedom of expression. Since 2009, international funding for arts and culture has started to reach the country from the United States and Europe. As Kabul-based artist Aman Mojadidi, curator of dOCUMENTA13 in Kabul, stated in an interview with Qantara, these investments came as
a way of creating a sense that Afghanistan is apparently in a much better state than it was before, paving the way for the planned military withdrawal.
Afghanistan has various art schools around the country, and its main art spaces are the National Museum of Afghanistan, the National Gallery of Afghanistan and the National Archives of Afghanistan in Kabul. The Centre for Contemporary Art Afghanistan (CCAA) is a small art centre in Kabul dedicated to the promotion and development of the art scene and local artists through workshops, exhibitions and other educational programmes.
Kabul Art Project, based in Germany, was founded in January 2013 to support and promote contemporary Afghan artists in exhibitions around the world and online, and has become the most present and active platform for connecting Afghani contemporary art to the global stage. Kabul Art Project is starting a crowdfounding campaign with a flexible goal of up to EUR25,000 in order to start publishing a regular series of artist books, shoot a documentary movie portraying their artists, organise exhibitions in Europe and open an online store.
Art Radar selected six outstanding young artists from the Kabul Art Project’s roster.
Shamsia Hassani (b. 1988, Tehran, Iran – based in Kabul) has become renowned for being one of the pioneering and the first female graffiti artist from Afghanistan. She has travelled to various countries, leaving her ‘traces’ along the way, in her trademark mural style. Hassani’s work speaks of the beauty of her country and her people and sends a message of hope and peace for the future. Her desire is to prove that “art is stronger than war”. Many of her murals portray stylised women in burqas appearing taller, stronger and more powerful as a way to talk about their life, “remove them from darkness, to open their mind and bring about some change”.
The difficulty of painting real life graffiti in the streets has inspired Hassani to create a new digital style: she takes photographs of sites in the city, buildings and walls, and paints the graffiti on the prints with acrylic. In 2009, she was among the top ten Afghan artists in a list by Turquoise Mountain (TMF), four of whom – Hassani, Nabila Horakhsh, Qasem Foushanji, Asad Bromand – went on to establish the artist collective Berang Arts. Hassani says about her relationship to art:
Art is such a part of my life that I don’t know what would happen if was not able to continue. It would be like having a piece cut out of me.
Malina Suliman (b. 1990, Kandahar – based in Kandahar and Kabul) is a painter, sculptor and graffiti artist and holds a BA in Fine Arts from Art Council Karachi, Pakistan (2010). She trained in graffiti art at Berang Arts and then went on to found her own local art group, the Kandahar Fine Arts Association (KFAA).
Suliman made international headlines in 2013 when she found refuge in Mumbai, India after receiving threats from the Taliban for the ‘crime’ of painting the walls of Kandahar. The graffiti portrayed a skeleton in a burqa (a self-portrait) and an ordinary Afghan entangled between an American tie knotted to a turban worn by the Taliban.
For Suliman, graffiti is an act of defiance against the Taliban and the closed-mindedness of her own family. A recurrent symbol in her work is the key, of which she says: “[a key] opens the doors to success as well as the mental block of people.” Suliman depicts the vices of Afghan society and the struggles of her generation, as well as advocates real equality and coexistence of genders. She is now safe in the Netherlands, doing a Master’s programme at the Fine Art Faculty in Eindhoven.
Akram Ati (b. 1985, Ghazni – based in Herat) is a painter who works with natural materials to produce his own paints. Ati scours his neighbourhood for materials such as dust, mud, stones and brick, which he then grinds down and mixes together with homemade glue.
By painting with these natural materials, Ati told the BBC he hopes “to better capture the essence of his country’s character and its struggles”. He also maintains that natural paints are far more durable and less dull than artificial ones. Ati started to paint when he was studying at the Fine Arts Faculty in Heart and developed his unique techniques and materials.
The subject matter of Ati’s work is traditional and portrays scenes of everyday life, sceneries of Afghan villages and the countryside, the national game Buzkashi (a game in which horse-mounted players attempt to drag a goat carcass toward a goal) or the Dervishes’ rotating dance. Ati’s work was supported by the United States embassy where he was able to sell quite a few pieces – the most expensive one at over USD1000, a price that could mean a small fortune and a bright future to a young Afghan artist.
Nabila Horakhsh (b. 1989, Kabul – based in Kabul) is a painter, photographer and freelance culture journalist and is the head of Berang Arts Organisation. She was a project assistant during dOCUMENTA13 workshops in Afghanistan and has exhibited widely both at home and abroad, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Iran. Horakhsh says about painting:
Painting for me is the best way to express my feelings and to share the stories that are in my heart.
Her haunting abstract paintings often feature the colour red, a happy colour and the symbol of love – a love that, she says, she always strongly feels for everything. Dark blue is another recurrent shade, the colour of the night. Horakhsh admits that there is a heightened negativity and feeling of fear in her own mind which might be reflected in her work due to the increasing violence and conflicts that are raging around the world, as if society were losing its humanity.
Moshtari Hilal (b. 1993, Kabul – based in Hamburg, Germany) is an autodidact artist principally working with drawing. She has been living in Germany since she was two years-old and is now studying Islam and Political Science at the University of Hamburg.
In 2010, Hilal travelled to Kabul to explore the contemporary art scene and meet other Afghan artists. She painted murals at Afghanistan’s first rock festival where she staged a live painting performance with artist and musician Abul Qasem Foushanji aka Dark Artery, who participated in dOCUMENTA13 with a multimedia installation.
Hilal has exhibited in “Friends and Lovers Underground”, a touring underground exhibition in Europe, and contributed a live-sculpture at Lange Nacht der Museen in Hamburg and a video installation at the Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, among others. Her drawings and murals are inspired by her Afghan heritage and often refer to politics and society in her home country.
In “Art Amongst War: Visual Culture in Afghanistan”, a 2014 exhibition at the College of New Jersey, she contributed a work entitled Antique Mujahideen. It featured an Afghan in pain and in decay with a rat in his eye and blood gushing out, as a statement on how the man has become a victim of the chaos surrounding him.
Mohsen Hossaini (b. 1976, Kabul – based in Kabul) is an animator, director and painter. He states that three elements played a major role in defining his artistic practice:
First, homelessness, a man without a country. Second, the bullet that gets fired from a gun. Third, streets of Kabul.
Hossaini’s work is visceral and powerful, and it is inspired by his experiences of life, which are then filtered and recreated through his imagination. His paintings depict street life in his hometown, Kabul, focusing on the alienation of the individual in modern society. In stark blood red and various shades of black, grey and dark green, Hossaini paints the solitude of the prison of the self: even in the crowd, people are alone, there is no communication.
A powerful symbol of this solitude and lack of relationships is the burqa, a physical and mental boundary between an individual and society. Some of his works communicate a sense of pain, struggle, torture, mental alienation and loss. Hossaini’s paper animation Shelter was selected at Hiroshima, Leipzig, Bosnia and Kabul’s international shorts and film festivals.
Hossaini comments on life in modern Kabul, to explain his bleak outlook:
Modern day life in Kabul is very different for different people. For normal people, it’s hard and the same goes for artists. For most politicians, it can get very lucrative.
C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia
Related Topics: Afghan artists, abstract art, installation, site-specific art, public art, animation, video art, drawing, painting, graffiti, street art, identity art, political art, social art, nonprofit spaces, profiles
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- Why artist Aman Mojadidi is “Afghan by blood, redneck by the grace of God” – ARTonAIR podcast interview – April 2014 – US-born Afghani artist talks about his work and the contemporary art movement in Kabul during an ARTonAIR interview
- Island of happiness? Artist Mariam Ghani on art and exploitation in Abu Dhabi – December 2013 – New York-based Afghan artist talks about the Gulf Labor coalition of artists and culture workers, who protest against the exploitation of labour in the art world
- “Art is stronger than war”: Afghanistan’s first female street artist speaks out – interview – July 2013 – Afghanistan’s first female street artist talks about the growing art scene in the country, women’s rights and covering the memory of war with art
- First time for Afghanistani, Kyrgyz and Iraqi artists in Sovereign Asian Art Prize finalist line-up – November 2010 – For the first time ever, the prize’s finalists list includes works from Afghanistan, Kyrgyztan and Iraq
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