Shamsia Hassani, Afghanistan’s first female street artist, uses her incredible talent and passion for peace and freedom to show people a different view of her war-torn country.
Born in 1988, Shamsia was raised in Tehran and moved to Kabul to pursue a degree in visual arts at Kabul University. She first learned about “graffiti,” a new word in Afghanistan, in 2010 when she participated in a visiting art program taught by a graffiti artist from the UK. Prior to that, the young artist had only painted on canvas not walls, and with brushes not spray paint cans. Once she was introduced to this new medium, it changed her perspective on the power art holds and the impact it can make.
“Using graffiti I want to cover over the bad memories of war from people’s minds with color. I could say my words to people, but images have more power than words,” Shamsia said in an interview about her work.
Shamsia also uses her work as a way to communicate about Afghan women’s rights. “I believe there are many who forget all the tragedy women face in Afghanistan, which is why I use my paintings as a way to remind them. I try to show the women bigger than what they are in reality, and in modern forms shaped in happiness and movement. I try to make people look at them differently because despite what people think about Afghan women, freedom is not to remove the burqa, it is to have peace.”
While graffiti is legal in Afghanistan, Shamsia still has to carefully navigate the dilapidated and dangerous streets to share her work. Because it’s not always easy for her to access the buildings and walls she wants to work on, she relies on a method she calls “Dream of Graffiti,” where she works her mural concepts out as drawings/paintings applied to photos taken from different parts of Kabul.
Shamsia is a fine art faculty member at Kabul University, and while Kabul remains her home base, she also travels around the world exhibiting her work and sharing her messages of peace and hope. Currently, Shamsia is a visiting artist at Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, CA.
“I think art can change society. I know I can’t do it all on my own, but I want to bring change, even if I change 1 percent of people’s thoughts, it’s something.”