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Afghan Woman Seeks Change Through Street Art


Female Afghan Graffiti Artist Seeks Change Through Murals
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Female Afghan Graffiti Artist Seeks Change Through Murals

Afghan Woman Seeks Change Through Street Art
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Thirty-year-old Shamsia Hassani is widely recognized as Afghanistan’s first, if not only, female graffiti artist. Being a graffiti artist anywhere in the world presents difficulties. In war-affected Kabul, such artists face special problems.

Hassani, however, was recently able to share her work with a broader audience. She was invited to show her work at a street art celebration in the Turkish city of Istanbul. She spent three days creating a large painting on a city wall. It shows a usual subject of Hassani’s work: a young woman dressed in cool clothes, playing an instrument.

Hassani usually uses the same woman character with closed eyes and without a mouth as symbols of the challenges faced by women in Afghanistan.
Hassani usually uses the same woman character with closed eyes and without a mouth as symbols of the challenges faced by women in Afghanistan.

The woman’s eyes are closed and she does not have a mouth. Hassani says those qualities represent the difficulties faced by women in Afghanistan.

“She can use musical instrument to talk with people, to speak louder and make more attention. And as she has no mouth, but this musical instrument gives her power to speak in society. Her eyes are closed because usually, she has nothing good around herself to see, and she doesn't want to see anything around, and sometimes she cannot see her future. But it doesn't mean that she cannot see.”

Welcome respite in Istanbul

The chance to attend the Istanbul event is welcomed, Hassani says, given the increasingly difficult environment in Afghanistan.

“I’m really scared of public spaces. I’m really scared from explosions happening all the time...and I feel usually very hopeless because there are a lot of bad things happening around me and I cannot change anything. And specifically, it’s difficult for women to do graffiti and street art because usually, people are not happy with women’s activity.”

So, she says, she continues with her street art to help empower people in her country.

A supportive family

Hassani was born in Iran to Afghan parents who had fled the war at home. She says could not study art in Iran because she was Afghan. Her parents moved back to Kabul so Hassani could study art at Kabul University, where she now teaches.

“My family is very supportive, my parents and my husband, they always support me in my works. All the time I am careful,” she says with a nervous laugh.

A rare treat

Shamsia Hassani says that in Kabul she generally has only a few hours to complete her work because of the dangers.

“I usually work in Kabul, but usually on the small walls, not the big walls, because I cannot finish them. I need to just run away as soon as I can.”

In Istanbul she had three days to complete her painting, a rare treat.

Shamsia Hassani says that in Kabul she generally has only a few hours to complete her work because of the dangers. In Istanbul she had three days to complete this mural.
Shamsia Hassani says that in Kabul she generally has only a few hours to complete her work because of the dangers. In Istanbul she had three days to complete this mural.

It is not only the risk of bombs and hostility toward women artists, that Hassani faces. Artistic differences with the owners of the walls upon which she paints also can be a problem.

“I am trying to get permission, but sometimes it’s difficult. Usually the owner of the wall never gives me permission to paint something — fantasy like this,” Hassani said, pointing to her painting.

Love, power of art

When asked what keeps her going, Hassani says it is her love of art and the power it has for good. She says she brings art to people in Afghanistan because there are no art museums.

She adds, "I think that I can change people’s minds with my artwork and sharing my ideas with people, that’s the thing I really like to do.”

I’m Caty Weaver.

Dorian Jones reported this story for VOA News. Caty Weaver adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

graffiti -- n. pictures or words painted or drawn on a wall, building, etc.

audience -- n.​ a group of people who gather together to listen to something (such as a concert) or watch something (such as a movie or play): the people who attend a performance​

society -- n.​ people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values​

fantasy -- n.​ something that is produced by the imagination : an idea about doing something that is far removed from normal reality​

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