I want to offer tactile experiences for those who are left out of a dominant language and culture. As an immigrant in this country I know how it feels to be excluded and isolated from public dialogue and spaces. I want my art to speak to many people; English readers, Farsi readers and those who cannot read. I make this work thinking about my parents and my own early experiences of arriving to a new country.
My family escaped Afghanistan when the Soviets invaded in 1979. We crossed the Kyber Pass into neighboring Pakistan. We arrived here in 1984—refugees of war in a small suburb of New Jersey. My sisters and I learned very little about our native region in the American education system or through mainstream media. When Afghanistan is presented it is in connection to violence and war. Afghan people are often portrayed as barbaric—men as terrorists and women as victims.
In my artwork I address this prejudice and offer something new—something that is more complicated and does not have an agenda for war. In my earlier work, I clipped pictures from newspapers reporting on The War On Terror. I added what I thought was missing and removed extraneous parts. For instance in Party on Afghanistan series, 2010, I noticed that women were missing from reports from the region. I imagined them interrupting and added them by cutting their silhouettes from the picture and paper.
In 2011, I ventured into Persian poetry and literature. My older sister had returned from Afghanistan with books from the old city in Kabul. She had a few books of poetry written by women in the early centuries in the Afghan region. We decided to work with these poems—translate them and present them to the English readers. We produced Ishqnama/The Book of Love —a handprinted artist book of the translated poems.
Making this book had a big impact on me. I connected to my Afghan culture in a new way—through language and poetry. We uncovered Persian women poets from many centuries ago whose voices resonated with us today in Brooklyn, NY.
I decided to print what is my heart and call it Visual Poetry. I cut paper stencils and screenprinted my own messages. BEFIERCE bekind series is based in Buddhist philosophy. We are encouraged to be fierce in New York City but this can lead to aggression. I considered being fierce and kind simultaneously. ACHEART , HEATHEART and HEARTHURTS prints are the core of Persian poetry. Persian literature is steeped in heartache. At the time, I was looking at the work of Sister Corita Kent. I am inspired by her colorful provocative prints. She was a nun and educator at Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and made screenprints calling for peace and justice, most notably in the 60’s and 70’s.
Making visual poetry is a liberating process because there is no limit to what I can describe. In this work words become containers for emotion. I experiment with them visually—letters become shapes and lose their meaning. The word itself and the message is important—but it is a starting point. It is important that the energy and playfulness is present in the prints. I want the viewer to be engaged—to see how the shapes break down and combine. I want them to see how when a transparent color is printed on another one they make a third color. I want them to see the drips and motions of the squeegee. If the viewer cannot read the word or the message they can experience it through color, shape and texture.