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​The sun of Kabul

Her name, Shamsia, means “sun”: well, the rays of this sun, a young 27-year-old sculpture teacher at the Fine Arts Faculty in Kabul, have for some time been reflected on the walls of the Afghan capital. In fact Shamsia Hassani portrays blue burqas – as Jessica Cugini reports in Combonifem – that come to life by means of aerosol cans, acrylic colours and paint brushes, covering walls in parts of the city. Shamsia decided to exhibit this art to all those who frequently had been able to live surrounded only by images that speak of war. She chose to do so outside so that her graffiti could be accessible to people through “symbolic images that succeed in saying what it would be difficult to express in public in spoken words”. Born in Iran in 1988, Shamsia is a daughter of Afghani refugees originally from Kandahar, the homeland of the Taliban, where her dream to paint and to study art would not have been able to come true. However in 2005 her family decided to move to Kabul and a new story began for the young woman. It led to her winninga prize in 2009 as one of her country’s leading artists and then to herexpressing herself publicly in street art. She conceived the idea after having attended a workshop with an English artist, Wayne “Chu” Edwards, famous for his three-dimensional graffiti. “The true problem,” the young woman recounted, “is not so much the police who are not concerned with these things as rather my own safety” in a country in which only 14 per cent of women know how to read and write, and where in order for a woman to go out a veil is required. It isn’t easy to work undisturbed: it isn’t only insults that rain down on Shamisa but often stones too. Harassment is the order of the day. Yet Shamsia does not lose heart. If she can’t intervene immediately, she photographs her chosen views of the city and, on returning to her studio, creates digital designs on the computer and decorates them or prints out the photos she has taken and paints on top of them. She has given a name to this alternative, Dreaming Graffiti, because from the photos, sooner or later – she is certain – the drawing will reach the wall. “I paint,” she told Cugini, “mainly women in blue burqas, a colour that I associate with freedom and serenity. I would like to tell their stories, to find a way of saving them from the darkness, to show them in another way, to give visibility to a reality about which one can’t talk. People are convinced that the main problem of Afghani women is the burqa. But this is not so. There is a mentality to combat that excludes the female sex from the channels of learning, relegating women to the home, forcing them into a life that has already been decided on in which they can only be mothers and wives”. It is not by chance that her most famous graffito portrays, precisely, a woman in a burqa sitting on the steps of a house in ruins: she represents feminine uncertainty today. “She is wondering whether she will succeed in going up those symbolic steps that are nothing other than society, or whether instead the steps will crumble beneath her feet. I painted her because women in Afghanistan must pay attention to every step they take”. 

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