Malina Suliman was a mere 20 years of age when she began creating graffiti art in her hometown of Kandahar. This transition to street artist occurred after Suliman came across a graffiti course run by a British street artist in Kabul some five years ago, after which, the fledgling street artist went on to set up her own workshops to teach young people how to spray-paint.
On the streets of Kandahar – which was previously the Taliban’s headquarters in Afghanistan – the artist sprayed prostrated red figures, keys with skulls for handles and skeletons draped in the region’s strict blue burqa. Suliman’s silhouetted male nudes reach to the sky from the playground of Zarghona high school.
But it wasn’t long before the street artist – using what could only be described as guerrilla art tactics to fight the oppression of the unyielding conservatism of the artist’s country – attracted the attention of the international media, and also the Taliban. Subsequently the family had to flee the country after suspected Taliban members shattered her father’s legs. Suliman then moved to Holland, where she is currently finishing her studies.
Now, the artist has her first solo exhibition in the UK, Beyond the Veil: a Decontextualisation, is at Art Represent in London, a gallery dedicated to presenting works by artists from conflict regions. The show includes new works by the seemingly political street artist: three burqas that have been pleated into curtain-like hangings and painted with the key-shaped symbol that appears in her graffiti. The words for “safety”, “education” and “happiness” are written in Arabic calligraphy on the fabric, while a video piece shows Suliman herself clad in a burqa, walking through a city street in the Netherlands.
Suliman is one of a small number of female artists who have emerged from war-ravaged Afghanistan. One of the artist’s most iconic motifs was a skeletal form dressed in a blue burqa which highlighted the issues of identity, inequality, and oppression in Afghanistan.
But Suliman states that her art is only obliquely political or feminist, using the traditional garment to explore different cultural contexts and interpretations.
“I wanted to take the burqa out of Afghanistan and turn it into something else,” she says. “It’s not just about being a woman, it’s about [taking] an object from someone’s everyday life [and] turning it into a performance, something else,” she says.
Now Beyond The Veil – A Decontextualisation, created with the support of Art Represent, will mark a new direction in the artist’s career.
Images: courtesy of Art Represent © 2015
Beyond the Veil: a Decontextualisation – Art Represent – until 27 August 2015