Gallery Glance | “Hangama Amiri: A Homage to Home,” Kemper Museum of Art

Shown in an installation view, “Bazaar” (2020), by Afghan Canadian artist Hangama Amiri, is one of several works in her “A Homage to Home” exhibit exploring historically rich Afghan places. The 14 x 16-foot piece incorporates cotton, chiffon, muslin, silk, suede and other textiles as well as inkjet prints on paper and canvas, paper, plastic, acrylic paint and marker. (photo by E.G. Schempf, 2024)

Through August 25, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is featuring the work of Afghan Canadian Hangama Amiri, an artist of resistance and memory. Curated by Kemper’s Assistant Curator Krista Alba and originally organized by Amy Smith-Stewart, chief curator at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut, the exhibition addresses Amiri and her family’s experience under Taliban rule. Through the exhibition, Amiri asks, “How can I give testimony to women whose voices have been silenced?”

Using banned material as a tool of resistance, Amiri’s diasporic viewpoint is based on her mother’s memories of Kabul, Afghanistan, as well as her own experiences in exile and as a refugee. “The exhibition is a homage to the land I left,” Amiri said at an artist talk on opening night. She visualizes this idea conceptually through textiles, while investigating such historically rich Afghan places as the bazaar, nail salons, tailor shops and issues surrounding food production.

Amiri fled Kabul with her family in 1996, when she was 7 years old. Amiri, her mother and three sisters were separated from their father for nine years, and they traveled through Central Asia as refugees, eventually arriving in Canada in 2005, when Amiri was a teenager. “I went from forced exile to forced assimilation,” she said about the nearly decade-long experience. Amiri’s piece “Departure” (2022) comments on the hectic and uncomfortable lives of refugees, showing a small car that is overburdened by stacks of boxes strapped to its roof.

Rather than art books, galleries or paintbrushes, her artistic foundation consisted of fabrics, and it remains that way in her current work. She describes a beautiful additive and subtractive process, especially as she treats her textiles as paintings and builds them as such. The viewer who looks closely will witness many frayed edges in those fabrics, implying fragments of the past that are still raw and unrefined.

Several pieces reveal the freedoms of women before the Taliban shut down the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) and replaced it with the Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in 1996. Prior to the restrictive and abusive decrees on women’s rights, women would often go to nail salons and dress in shiny and colorful fabrics, which are now banned because they are seen as “noisy.” Amiri uses these fabrics for the sole purpose of fighting back.

Amiri sees the exhibition as hopeful. It celebrates women’s voices and serves as a declaration of resistance. In “New Born, Baby Girls” (2022), she comments on how future generations will be affected by the changes in Afghanistan, and she is hopeful for a better future. Curator Krista Alba shares a similar sentiment, saying, “Working with Hangama and Amy to bring this exhibition to Kansas City has been a special privilege and responsibility for me as a curator. Hangama’s work engages social issues that can relate to many local diasporic communities and is especially timely during an influx of refugees to the United States, including roughly one thousand Afghan immigrants who moved to Kansas City in 2021.”

“Hangama Amiri: A Homage to Home” continues at Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, 4420 Warwick Blvd., through Aug. 25. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, 816.753.5784 or www.kemperart.org.

Ashley Lindeman

Ashley Lindeman is an art historian, educator, and arts writer. She recently earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University, and she works full time as Assistant Professor of Humanities at Johnson County Community College.

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