Shamsia Hassani – the artist who dares to hope in the darkest places
Introducing you in this article to the wonderful change-maker and key-influencer, the Afghani artist and activist, Shamsia Hassani.
On the 8th August 2021, Kabul was invaded by the Taliban and progress on the human rights for women and girls was reversed, some might say, irrevocably.
The picture above is Hassani’s response: art speaking louder than words.
Shamsia Hassani and her remarkable work as an Afghani female artist, vigorously, bravely, promotes the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan through her powerful images. She is a wonderful beacon of hope for so many marginalised ‘invisible’ women across the world. In this article Widows for Peace salutes her artistry and advocacy.
I only came to hear about Shamsia Hassani recently via Margaret Owen, OBE, Founder and President of Widows for Peace through Democracy. Margaret lay ill in hospital and in the next door bed, by chance, lay a woman who heard Margaret on her phone talking about Afghanistan. She introduced Margaret to Hassani’s art just as the tragic news of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban was being broadcast.
Here are some of the photos of Hassani’s amazingly powerful work shared with us, at the time, by Margaret and now shared with you all.
Shamsia Hassani was born in 1988 and is the first female graffiti artist of Afghanistan.
Through her art, Hassani portrays Afghan women in what is now an entirely male dominant society.
Gender Equality has vanished. The human rights of women and girls are non-existent. Access to education for girls and women is gravely threatened.
It appears things could not be worse for the most impoverished, the most ignored, the most abused but for the empowering work of creatives and artists such as Hassani bringing hope and light to the darkest places.
Hassani’s vision gives Afghan women a different face, a face with power, ambitions, and willingness to achieve goals. It transcends the horror, the brutality, the violence.
The woman character, often dressed in a shimmering deep blue, portrays a human being who is proud, amplifying her voice on behalf of those who have lost theirs, and determined to bring positive changes to people’s lives.
During the last decade of the post-war era in Afghanistan, Hassani’s works have brought in a huge wave of colour and appreciation to all the women in the country.
Her artworks have inspired thousands of women around the world and has given a new hope to female Afghan artists in the country.
She has motivated hundreds of Afghans to stimulate their creativity through her graffiti festival, art classes, and exhibitions in different countries around the world.
Shamsia Hassani, born in Iran to refugee Afghan parents, is the associate professor of Drawing and Anatomy at Kabul University venturing into the streets of Afghanistan and elsewhere to create murals and works of art.
Now much of her work has been white washed over by the Taliban. It’s too dangerous for her to visit buildings but Hassani has invented her “dreaming graffiti” which means she takes photos of bombed out buildings then adds graffiti later.
Over the past years she has attained recognition for her work and was awarded a place in the Foreign Policy’s 2014 top 100 global thinkers list and was included in the second volume of Goodnights Stories for Rebel Girls.
Using the walls of abandoned buildings damaged from bombs as her canvasses, Hassani paints murals that often depict women in traditional clothing joyfully posing with musical instruments.
Part of her mission, she says, is to beautify the city with colour amid the darkness of war, and also create searing images of pain and loss.
If you look you will see, Hassani’s women are portrayed with no mouths, signifying the enforced silence of their voices but not, of course, their thoughts or creativity.
I am fortunate to have one of Hassani’s posters which you can see below. This young woman in bold blue is balanced en-pointe on a grenade or shell. The buildings in the background are reminiscent of broken piano keys just like the broken instruments in many of her pictures.
The young woman reaches to the sky to touch the spark from the grenade or shell which has, magically in her female hands, turned to the thistledown seeds of her dreams; choices, ambitions, freedoms and future to be blown far away from the horror beneath.
In 2018 in an interview with DW AKADEMIE Hassani said she sometimes feels hopeless and unable to make a difference but she continues, even so, dedicated to giving power and strength to the marginalised and oppressed through her art ensuring they are never forgotten.
Long may you continue Shamsia Hassani! The world and NGO’s like Widows for Peace need people like you to bring hope to ‘invisible’ women and girls everywhere.
Alice Fookes, WPD Trustee, November 2021.
SOURCES and ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Our warmest thanks and appreciation to Shamsia Hassani for permitting us to illustrate this article with examples of her work.