The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE Magazine. 2016 The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE magazine. 2016 - Page 16

Shamsia Hassani: Beauty and the Burqa By Rajul Punjabi Shamsia Hassani, a prolific graffiti artist and associate professor of Fine Arts at Kabul University in Afghanistan, asserts that her art is not political. At least, not on purpose. “When I put my art in the street, a lot of people But everything from her medium and her canvas to her recurring motifs—freedom of expression and the burqa—evoke a quest for liberation. And they do not whisper or ask. They demand. Hassani is unassuming but fierce in her own right; a revolutionary with a can of spray paint and the cracked walls in an ancient city as her canvas. While graffiti is not illegal in Afghanistan, Hassani “People think that women in burqas are [powerless] and uneducated, without ideas of their own,” says Hassani. “They think it is a limitation. I want to [create] new meaning for the burqa. The regular shape is sad, tired and boring. I have changed the shape [in my art]. There are sharp shoulders with movement and size.” have verbally abused her and attempted to stop her The artist’s message is provocative—she paints images of women in burqas in large public spaces when the burqa is known for preserving a woman’s privacy. There is an undeniable sense of boldness and exposure in the work. Her large scale paintings, rife with vibrant color and textures, reinforce the idea that a woman can maintain her privacy without being invisible. While her body is covered, it can still exist in a powerful way. Hassani began doing graffiti in 2010 when a visiting British graffiti artist, Chu, held a small workshop in Kabul. There were three women in the group and the practice stuck for her. “I want to change people’s minds with my art,” she says. will see it. Maybe only two will get something from it. And those two people can change something.” says some of her favorite work has gone unfinished because she’s had to abandon a street for her own safety. Sometimes it’s political warfare that makes the streets unsafe. Other times, it’s for simply being a woman creating art in a public space that puts her in danger. On several occasions people from working. But when she has a vision, she executes it. Recently, her family discouraged her from tagging a certain location because a bomb had gone off nearby. It wasn’t safe for her to linger there, so she took a picture of the wall, printed a large image of it © Shamsia Hassani, 2012. Courtesy of the artist. and used the image as her canvas. Working with acrylics and a paintbrush, she created what would later become the collection, “Dreaming Graffiti.” Work from this collection and ones like it are more accessible and transportable since they do not adorn city walls. These images have brought People think that women in burqas are [powerless] and uneducated, without ideas of their own. I want to [create] new meaning for the burqa. Shamsia Hassani her day-to-day existence in Kabul to exhibitions in the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, India, Switzerland, and Vietnam, among others. 16 OF NOTE 17 OF NOTE