In conversation with Hangama Amiri

At the T293 gallery in Rome, the solo show, Reminiscences II, by Hangama Amiri (Kabul, 1989) presents tapestries and fabric sculptures; a series in which the artist focuses on the essential themes of her artistic practice. Hangama Amiri reflects on her origins and personal experience as an Afghan exile by narrating nostalgia, detachment, identity and the feminine. The works exhibited in Reminiscences II are a study of the domestic and everyday space, where the artist opens a dialogue between emotionality and memory, both personal and collective; moreover, their realization allows the artist to reframe and better understand her own events and her identity, always poised between land of origin and land of immigration.

Hangama Amiri, “Reminiscences II”, exhibition view, galleria T293, Roma, 2024. Ph. Daniele Molajoli, courtesy the artist and galleria T293

Irene Follador: Since the series Reminiscences is a personal narrative, reworking your personal experience; do you feel like telling us your story?
Hangama Amiri: My Reminiscences series is inspired by my family’s photograph archive and, specifically, by the conversation between my father in Europe and my mother in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, during their separation of almost nine years due to migration. In this material there was an unspoken but evident distance from home that both the individuals expressed in their image-making. I was intrigued to observe the differences between their definition of home, family and their current surroundings that now they manifest with pride and hope. Translating these images into fabric has brought me closer to understand their grief, yearning, desire, and their distant love for their family and for each other. By collaging different fabrics from various sources, I tell their stories as immigrants, refugees and the diaspora, extending the experience to reach many others who have experience or are experiencing the same process. In the last years, many families have fled their home and have sought asylum in western countries due to war, and many of those have had to work alone in order to support their family back home. Separation is one of the shared tales in immigrants’ lives. I hope my Reminiscences series can shed light on these shared experiences among immigrant communities in Rome and beyond, through visual art, and bring them together to reflect on their individual stories.

Hangama Amiri, “Woman Before A Mirror”, 2022, muslin, cotton, polyester, dyed fabric, velvet, chiffon, silk, sued and found fabrics, 185.5 × 136 cm, ph Daniele Molajoli, courtesy T293

Working with fabric is the stylistic code of your practice, mixing various and multiple fabrics and textures. What initially inspired you to explore the formalization of textile compositions and collages?
I began as a painter, working in the medium for over fourteen years. Since graduating from the MFA program at Yale School of Art, I have been exclusively working with textiles. It was indeed at Yale where I discovered my love for fabric, collaging, and creating installations with soft materials. My relationship with paint was very direct; I used readymade paint on canvas, which felt more like writing my memories rather than stretching, ripping, or building a world. I struggled to feel a sense of belonging or ownership over my work. However, I found liberation in translating my world into fabric, allowing me to create as imperfectly and freely as I wanted. The materialistic potentials of fabrics closely remind how memory functions: they are fragmented glimpses of reality collaged together. I collect fabrics not only in New York but from various parts of the world, such as Pakistan, India, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Collaging or assembling different patches from these countries connects me with my migrant and refugee experiences, bringing me close to the art and culture of those regions. I do see my fabric pieces still exist in the frame of painting, they use painterly language, composition, while challenging the canon of art history in its most radical ways.

Can you illustrate how does your reinterpretation of these textile traditions serve as a metaphor to highlight the limits of patriarchy and emphasize the role of masculinist society in promoting discriminatory social norms?
Fabrics have been around us for centuries, they are the foundation of protection, comfort, touch and therefore they carry our feeling, senses and memory. For generations women have practiced their artistry using embroidery, quilting, knitting, sewing for their family and for commerce. Textiles are not only the objects of beauty, but also political banners, that show women’s strengths and community, for gender and social rights. Even today, when observing protests around the globe, the most common and important material is fabric: scarfs, flags, and written slogans on banners; this allows to reckon the power and versatility of fabrics as an art form, even though it seemed to be overlooked throughout history. I am particularly inspired by Underground Railroad quilts, where women used quilting as a passage to freedom. They would stitch specific codes, patterns and symbols and hang them outside as a sign to lead fleeing slaves on the path of freedom. Otherwise I look at arpilleras (“burlap”, in Spanish), vibrant applique and patchwork tapestries made by group of women in Chile. Their work chronicled the life of poor and oppressed in their Country in the 1970s and 1980s, during the totalitarian military regime of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte. As a form of resistance, women would gather around a table and stitch small tapestry to narrate the social and political struggles of their time: these are now a historical archive that allows to learn and visualise their narrative and grief. Fabric has therefore always challenged the patriarchal notion of what culture-making is, criticising those hierarchies not only in the art history, but also in our everyday life.

Hangama Amiri, “Reminiscences II”, exhibition view, galleria T293, Roma, 2024. Ph. Daniele Molajoli, courtesy the artist and galleria T293

How do you position yourself within the broader discourse on contemporary art and cultural identity? Does your art practice contribute to challenging or undermining dominant cultural conventions?
So far, I see the work I make has had a meaningful impact for the young generation who feel close to art, feminism, textile, and especially for the ones who are trying to find a right navigation through the diasporic notion in questioning today’s contemporary discourse. As an artist, I believe that whichever my tool – painting, fabric, or soft sculpture – I have always intentionally tried to carve a space to be seen, heard, represented, and to open up another space for those who feel belonging, heard and included in my space. I can only say that I am part of a contemporary conversation in which the diasporic experiences are meshed and meet among them. The challenge I observe, and to which I have been contributing my awareness, is that the hierarchy of art still exists under white male dominant conventions. Even though there is still a long way to go for equality in this hierarchical market, we are not that far behind. Many artists from the previous generation have been role models for me, showing me how to continue the struggle, learn, and make progress. Women, LGBTQIA+, and queer artists – whether working with fabric, soft materials, painting, sculpture, or photography – have made remarkable and powerful contributions to contemporary history. I look at artists like Sarah Sze, Carrie Mae Weems, Nicole Eisenman, Rina Banerjee, Chitra Ganesh, Tala Madani, and Doris Salcedo, who have all changed our conception of art history and art-making in a contemporary context.

Is stimulating empathy through the gaze a tool for establishing dialogue and understanding across ideological and cultural boundaries?
I think your question might lie in the power of representation. To answer the idea of stimulating empathy through gaze as a tool I can say both yes and no. In my belief, art is not a tool to be at service of political needs. Mass producing images in reaction or respond to political upheavals is more of an activist point of view rather than art in its slow practice and process. I think art can lose its power when it serves a quick purpose. A simple example that beautifully fights against such conventions is Van Gogh’s painting. The way he used his brushstrokes and depicted somber, blue, sad scenes was largely about his lifelong internal struggle to understand the world around him. He was poor, but he never shied away from depicting scenes of farmers working in the field, women eating potatoes, or a sad, fallen sunflower: all signs of his mental struggles and financial issues as an artist. Similarly, Doris Salcedo’s immersive installation titled Palimpsest (2013-17) is a powerful tribute to the countless people who have lost their lives in the Mediterranean Sea while migrating to Europe. The artist herself pointed out that these lost souls are countless; the European Union does not keep records of their names, erasing their humanity. These two examples, through their distinct art practices, have shaped and shifted our understanding of how impactful art can be in understanding history; they challenge our cultural and ideological boundaries and help us in understand other lives. My response to this is: how you are using the tool to connect feelings and visions in order to understand cultures at large is the politics of being an artist.

Hangama Amiri, “Man with Vase of Tulips”, 2024, muslin, cotton, chiffon, velvet, polyester, silk, suede and linen, 159 × 136 cm, (detail), ph Daniele Molajoli, courtesy T293

Do you think your production is a tool for maintaining and feeding a connection with culture and with a sense of belonging in such changing and transitory space-time coordinates?
Whichever tool I continue to explore and use to express my ideas while trying to find sense of my world has brought me closer to the culture I was forced to leave. Working with textiles and fabric, in particular, has created a major connection with others who nurture a similar community and culture as mine. Art exists because the world is not perfect, and through its shifting phases in shape, time and history, art will always be a tool to draw, paint, and vocalize an imprint of its effect. When I use fabric, whether it is archival textile or simply denim, side by side in my work, it marks the relationship with fabric in its two distinct histories and cultures. If we see the denim material, we will recognize it immediately because we have worn that material, felt it, grown up with it, and already know its texture. Similarly, if an Afghan woman sees my archival fabric from her Country, she will recognize it and feel connected to it, as it might remind her of home. Objects hold a lot of power in preserving our culture, language, history, and time. Artists, therefore, are the byproducts of culture, shaping it through whichever medium they work with.

The concept of “home” is a constant in your artistic practice. Does your work with fabric relate to this concept of seeking constant dwelling?
One of my primary memories of home is being surrounded by fabric. As a child, I loved going to bazaars, where I was enveloped by a colorful, flamboyant, and noisy culture. Fabric and colorful textiles have been my foundation for defining my idea of dwelling. Today, when I use different fabrics from countries such as Pakistan, India, Central Asia, and the US, I am in a constant search for home. I seek to feel at home by choosing certain textures, patterns, colors, and sounds that remind me of it. Fabric is a sensual material; it is the first object we encounter when we are born, and it holds smell, intuition, and memory. The more I am enveloped with fabric today, the closer I feel to home and to a sense of belonging, protection, and warmth.

Hangama Amiri, “Reminiscences II”, exhibition view, galleria T293, Roma, 2024. Ph. Daniele Molajoli, courtesy the artist and galleria T293

Regarding the works exhibited in Reminiscences II, how are archival images and personal memories integrated?
My personal experiences are intertwined with my memories of growing up around my mom. Many pieces are inspired by photos of my mom and her belongings, while we only received photos, packages, gifts, and sweets in the mail from my father. In this exhibition, I included the piece Nuqle-Afghani, a soft sculpture that reminisces about my mother sending my dad Afghan almond sugar-coated sweets, his favorite, which he could not find in his neighboring community in Norway. Another piece, Still-Life with Dried Fruits, features a blown-up stamp from Norway with the illustration of a European still-life with fruits, fish, and bread, juxtaposed with large pixel images of dried fruits such as raisins, pistachios, and almonds on the same chiffon-printed surface. This piece represents the cultural exchange between the West and the East, intertwined with my memory of my family sending dried fruit to my father. For me, translating photos into soft material is a way to save these memories, which lead me to create the home-like space for this exhibition at T293 gallery, with its own unique architecture. When I experience these moments in the photo’s archives, I remember being in a quiet, safe, comforting space, indulging myself in the colors and joy in my home. To transform the T293 space, I enveloped two walls with beige chiffon and painted two walls in turquoise and violet, which is what a home might look like from my childhood memory. Having fabric on the walls tends to slow down our pace and sense of time, and it also dampens noise, offering a calm feeling once the viewers enter the space. All of this offers a home-like interior space, which is exactly the atmosphere I wanted to evoke while setting up this exhibition.

Irene Follador


Hangama Amiri, Reminiscences II
04/04/2024 – 25/05/2024
Galleria T293
via Ripense 6, 00153 Roma


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