Shamsia Hassani is likely to be one of the busiest artists in Afghanistan. When the country’s only female graffiti writer is not teaching art in Kabul’s university or roaming the U.S., U.K. or Vietnam showcasing her artwork, she’s making a statement on women’s equality.
Shamsia sprays powerful, dreamy burqa-covered women on hidden walls, corners or alleyways in Kabul’s dusty streets. “[Women in burqas] are a symbol to change the minds of those that think that a covered woman can’t do anything.” Shamsia says, defiantly. “They are women, they can do anything. They are like normal people! I paint women with stronger shapes, movement and life to show them as being part of society.”
Twenty-six-year-old Shamsia was born in Kandahar, Afghanistan. She went to Iran hoping to study art but was denied the opportunity and returned home, eventually embracing graffiti in December, 2010 after attending the first street art workshop in Afghanistan, held by Argentine 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.
“Afghan graffiti contains lots of deep messages that often aren’t present in the West,” she explains. “For my artwork I’m not looking for any special technique. I only have one style and I don’t care if it’s good or bad quality. I’m not inspired by anyone.”
Painting in Afganhistan presents several challenges: from the scarce supply of spray cans to resisting Islamist zealots to the constant threat of bomb attacks. If there is no chance of finding a safe place to paint, Shamsia makes digital graffiti, adding her artwork to photographs of Afghan streets. Whatever the challenges, Shamsia will continue to use art to fight for peace and freedom for Afghanistan’s women. “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.”
Find out more about Shamsia.