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Shamsia : The Resilient Afghan Graffiti Woman

Shamsia : The Resilient Afghan Graffiti Woman

by Amélie Padioleau

Born in 1988, Shamsia Hassani is an Afghan refugee born in Tehran, Iran.  Restrictions placed on refugees by the Iranian government prohibited her from attending art school. Refusing to abandon her passion, in 2005, she moved to Afghanistan to study art at the University of Fine Arts of Kabul, where she would later teach.

In 2010, she was introduced to graffiti art by the British artist CHU when giving a workshop for an advocacy group, Combats Communication. Shamsia immediately understood the power of street art, “I can introduce art to people … because most people are not able to go to museums and galleries,” Hassani explained to the VICE magazine.

Shamsia found refuge, beauty, and truth in art, and she is now sharing her perspective in the streets of Kabul. Since 2010, she has expressed her opposition to the war by creating colorful art on the walls of bombed and abandoned buildings in Kabul.

The presence of graffiti artists in the streets of Los Angeles or Paris is a common occurrence, but a woman painting in the streets of Kabul is radically different.  There is risk of bombs dropping anywhere at any time, rifles are always nearby, and the city ruins represent the constant conflict. For Shamsia, the risk of being harassed by the “closed-minded” people, as she gently describes them, is yet another threat. These men do not believe that women should walk alone in the street, never mind a woman creating graffiti. To maintain her safety, Shamsia learned to cover her face with her respirator to avoid being recognised. She learned to work fast, spending no more than 15 minutes on a painting.  She learned never to work in a public place, instead work in small alleys. She learned the speed and precision of bold lines and sharp angles, and she learned that she often must abandon her work in exchange for her security.

As millions of Afghans attempt to flee their country in fear of the oppressive Taliban regime, many have begun to worry about Shamsia, the incredible, independent, and bold Afghan graffiti artist, but she remains courageous.  The day before the fall of Kabul, she posted a painting of an iconic woman standing straight and proudly offering her flower to a shadow in the darkness - a man with a gun and evil eyes.  After a few days of silence, she posted a new painting as a sign of resistance.  The iconic woman appears again, however this time, she is on her knees in devastation.  The black pot that had been growing a flower of hope has fallen. “Maybe it is because our wishes have grown in a black pot …,” Shamsia states in her Facebook post.

With her eyes closed and missing a mouth, the woman of Shamsia’s paintings carries a deformed or broken musical instrument, which gives her another voice. “ She is proud, loud, and can bring positive changes to people’s lives,” Hassani described on her website. As the Kabul airport explodes and the streets are oppressively closed down, Shamsia, now more than ever, serves as an inspiration for Afghan women to speak for themselves and to be heard with an evolved voice.

Amélie Padioleau
meet the author

Amélie Padioleau

Amélie Padioleau : Journalist, anthropologist and sailor, Amélie lives in La Paz, Baja California Sur (Mexico) on her sailboat. She writes for the French magazine Mayonez and the Culture Trip app about urban culture, street art and how storytelling can [...]