An Artist Cuts and Sews Her Childhood in Kabul, Shining a Light on Women

"Azizi Tailor Shop" By Hangama Amiri, at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum (Courtesy of the artist and T293, Rome; Photo by Chris Gardner)


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RIDGEFIELD — Depictions of scissors are scattered among artist Hangama Amiri’s large-scale textile pieces that fill the first floor galleries of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.  

“My uncle was a tailor, and growing up in Kabul city, he had his own shop nearby, and I used to stop by the shop – and I remember he had sharp scissors and I remember the sound – that’s a signature of me right now. A painter’s brush is their identity – for me, it’s scissors because it’s the one that cuts these things and joins them together,” Amiri told CT Examiner at the Feb. 4 opening of “Hangara Amiri: An Homage to Home” at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. 

In 1996, when Amiri was seven, she and her family fled Kabul City and the Taliban – moving from Pakistan to Tajikistan and finally settling in Halifax, Nova Scotia where she attended high school and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She received a Fulbright scholarship and went on to receive her MFA from Yale. She has been based in New Haven for the last four years. 

Amiri trained as a painter but said she shifted to textiles in graduate school because they connected more closely with her personal history. 

“I am still in the language of painting when I hold a fabric or textile,” she said. “I’ve always had this sort of a battle with my relationship to the painting medium. I questioned these fundamental threads, like, where’s this coming from, or how do I belong to this medium? The history was so far away from who I was growing up.”

Amiri said fabrics were her “access and agency” growing up, with her mother and grandmother teaching her to sew. 

“We didn’t have growing up like color pencils, or like watercolor or painting to paint, we had these little cloths to make our own dolls and these were sort of the fundamental crafts that I grew up with,” she said.

“Bazaar,” 2020, installation view, by Hangama Amiri (Courtesy of the artist and T293, Rome; Photo by Jason Mandella)

“That’s why I started to take the canvas off of the stretcher bars and use the canvas as its own fragile material and from there they become fragments – that kind of filled my world. Memory is not perfect. Painting was something that was just so perfect that I couldn’t relate.”

Amiri depicts interior and outdoor spaces reflective of her family and culture – a living room, a beauty salon, a fabric store, an outdoor bazaar – sometimes “drawing” messy lines with the sewing machine, over and around fabrics that are sometimes scrunched, draped, and pulled.  

She said that as she reflected on her own cultural patterns, she was painting fabric on canvas and that led to questioning the material itself, leading her back to her origins and her relationship to the history of textiles. 

She also focuses on women’s faces and female beauty, creating three-dimensional planes with precise sewing and edges – a message about women’s struggles under the Taliban regime, its return to power in 2021 and its banning of the display of female image in public. 

“Mah Chehra Beauty Parlor” by Hangama Amiri (Courtesy of the artist; Photo by Chris Gardner)

“Fabric is so mobile, if it goes off edges, it’s always imperfect,” said Amiri. “And I have become so drawn to that imperfect pitch that really relates to how my world is built, you know, my world has never been perfect. From the beginning, it was imperfect and all edges, and that imperfection makes me question more, makes me desire to work more with this medium.”

“Hangara Amiri: An Homage to Home” runs through June 11 at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum,