Just graduated from NSCAD University in the spring 2012, the young Canadian uses her art to speak for the women of her native land, Afghanistan.
“I see myself as creating activist artwork to challenge and to change and to bring hope for the women of Afghanistan,” says Hangama, 23, just back from the U.K. and en route to Lunenburg, where she is one of three NSCAD grads with the NSCAD-Lunenburg Community Studio Residency Program.
Hangama was in London to attend the opening of the Passion for Freedom Festival exhibition at Unit 24 Gallery, next to the Tate Modern. Two of her paintings from the Wind-up Dolls Series, which debuted at the Anna Leonowens Gallery in the fall of 2011, were accepted to the prestigious exhibition.
“When I applied, I got a reply from the curator of the show that same day,” says Hangama. “I was quite surprised.”
Born in Kabul, she and her family fled Afghanistan with the arrival of the Taliban in 1996, making their way to Canada in 2005. The Wind-Up Dolls series was inspired by a 2010 trip back to the city of her childhood and the women she met there. The painting Raining Stones shows a naked woman, her head bowed and her long hair obscuring her face, in the centre of the canvas, as rocks drop down around her. The painting refers to the fact women accused of committing adultery are still subject to being publicly stoned in Afghanistan’s tribal villages.
The second painting shows a young woman with fire obliterating her eye, holding a book in one hand and a Burqa in the other. Despite the flames—the intimidation, the danger—her gaze is fierce and defiant.
“When the Taliban lost control of the country in 2001 there was great hope for girls, that they would be able to go to school. But it isn’t safe. So many girls have had acid thrown into their face.”
Her work got a lot of attention in London; she was interviewed on the BBC and a columnist in The Spectator singled out her two paintings for special mention in his review. “When you look at them, you cannot help but know that the artist understands the plight of women facing one of the most murderously misogynistic forces on the planet,” writes Nick Cohen, “and perhaps feel the need to offer her solidarity overwhelming all other emotions.”
Hangama was back in Kabul recently, in the company of her sister Fazila, a NSCAD film grad who was scouting locations for her first feature. The sisters collaborated on Domes of Secret Desires, a series of six videos. In each sequence, a woman (Hangama) wearing a blue Burqa would perform such taboo activites as putting on lipstick, walking in high heels and smoking hookah. “These performances are the conceptual portraits for women who have been target of moral behavioral codes imposed on them by men in religiously standardized societies,” explains Hangama.
As well, Hangama started work on a series of paintings and projections which will explore the male gaze in Afghanistan. She plans to build on them once back in the Lunenburg studio.
“In today’s Afghan society, Afghan women live in a sexually objectifying environment; they are harassed and called names and stared at by men,” says Hangama. “If you walk outside (in Kabul) covered from head to toe, you are still harassed … there is no way of escaping the male gaze.”