Bazaar, A Recollection of Home
“In this project, I am re-weaving my childhood memories of the bazaar, transforming and deforming it to offer my viewers a sense of place and time alongside an awareness of the politicized present.” – Hangama Amiri
Hangama Amiri (1989, Kabul) is an Afghan-Canadian artist whose work concentrates on topics such as feminism, geopolitics and gender. Pivotal in her artistic practice is the attention attributed to Afghan costumes and, more generally, to the Islamic culture. The aim of opening up a different point of view on Afghan traditions is a self-conscious position based on her life background, having grown up in Nova Scotia, Canada and being currently based in New Haven, Connecticut. She looks back at her native country – where she lived until the age of six – through a critical approach to then celebrate Afghan women contemporary lifestyles.
During her childhood, while wandering with her female family members through Kabul’s commercial activities, Amiri recalls that even though the services and products were mainly dedicated to women, business were managed predominately by men. From 2001, after the fall of the Taliban regime, the country witnessed a significant social and cultural shift, which was followed by a more meaningful feminine presence in the commercial activities, though this time as business owners, of jewelry stores, fashion boutiques and beauty shops. Interested in a growing Afghan hybrid visual culture in relation to gender norms in these public spaces and also to evoke her personal diaspora, the artist re-lives this historical moment and her personal experience on her latest artistic project: Bazaar, A Recollection of Home.
For her first exhibition in Europe Hangama Amiri reconstructs those commercial environments from a feminist perspective, giving shape to a monumental textile installation. By deliberately choosing to figure forefront women-dominated spaces, such as beauty parlors, in which she inserts depictions of Taliban-banned items as red lipstick, shiny fabrics and nail polish, Amiri elegantly embroiders a poetic and social-political narrative, which intends to give Afghan women a sense of freedom and power in their own sensuality, sexuality and pleasure, a narrative that runs opposite to the Islamic norms.
Using mainly fabrics and textile materials as cotton, chiffon, silk, suede or handmade Afghan embroidered fabrics to figure those environments, the artist invites the viewers to experience the space as flaneurs to this constructed reality, organizing her Bazaar as a contemporary equivalent to the Benjaminian conception of the Parisian passages. Furthermore, the textile materials – other than being the primary matter that attributes shape to the works – are approached by the artist as a tool to open a socio-political discourse, as she questions the interplay between economic exchanges, subjectivity and representation. By draping, stretching and folding different textile materials and finally sewing them all together, the artist creates a metaphor of fragmentation: on each piece we can find an assemblage of identities that have lived in multiple geographies throughout the world.
By conceiving the works in this fashion, Hangama Amiri creates a space of other or, as defined by French philosopher Michael Foucault, an Heterotopia. The term is used by Foucault to describe spaces that have multiple layers of meaning or relationships to other places and whose complexity cannot be seen immediately. In accordance to this conception, Amiri extends the works to wider layers of significance, being contemporarily physical and mental representations of the spaces of her childhood.
The exhibition Bazaar, A Recollection of Home explores politics of globalization, consumer exchanges between the east and west, and the social and gender norms within the Afghan bazaars. Celebrating women’s representation and presence in a male-dominated environment, Hangama Amiri makes use of her own space to actively give voice to Afghan women while opening a cultural dialogue to expand views on what can be contemporary Afghan feminism.