ArteEast is pleased to present an interview with artist Hangama Amiri as part of our Artist Spotlight series.
Hangama Amiri (b. 1989, Kabul, Afghanistan) works predominantly in textile to create images that reflect on ideas of home. Using a painterly approach to color and materials, Amiri reflects on how everyday objects are imbued with cultural memory.
Amiri holds an MFA from Yale University and a BFA from NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was a Canadian Fulbright and Post-Graduate Fellow at Yale University School of Art and Sciences, and has completed residencies at the Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity, Joya AiR Residency Program in Almería, Spain, World of CO Residency program in Sofia, Bulgaria, and at Long Road Projects in Jacksonville, Florida. Amiri won the 2011 Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteerism Award and the 2013 Portia White Protege Award. She has exhibited internationally at T293 Gallery, Rome; Laurie Swim Gallery, Lunenburg; the New Museum, New York; Banff Centre for Arts & Creativity, Banff; Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver; Paramo Gallery, Guadalajara; and Charles Moffett Gallery, New York; among others. Amiri lives and works in New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
ArteEast: Can you tell us about your work in general and the main themes you return to in your practice?
Hangama Amiri: In my art practice I explore a range of personal and collective social experiences that revolve around Afghanistan—my now estranged homeland. On a personal level, I often engage with my childhood memories of growing up in Kabul and Tajikistan. On a larger social level, I explore themes revolving around fragmented identities, gender, and contemporary Afghan women’s voices. I have been interested in both for a long time and this explains my need to continuously paint the untold stories of Afghan women. I do so in order to amplify their voices and experiences within the context of art.
AE: You graduated with an MFA from Yale School of Art in 2020, how did your experience in this program have an effect on your practice as a whole? How did your practice evolve during graduate school?
HA: Honestly, the two years I spent studying at the Yale School of Art were the most challenging, enriching, and productive of my career. Being among a group of artists from such diverse cultural, artistic, and political backgrounds was something I enjoyed. The learning environment and constant conversations among peers and faculty alike led me to experiment with different materials, develop a deeper understanding of fabrics, and develop a more rigorous studio practice. Not everyone in the program was a painter’s painter and this made it so everyone in our class needed to come to terms with what painting and printmaking meant to them individually. At the end of the day though, graduate school was all about experimentation, being open to learning new things, making mistakes, and accepting failure in the studio. This is how I personally continue making new work that challenges me to develop it in different directions all while avoiding repetitive ways of making.
AE: Where do you source the materials for your textile pieces and what are the various techniques you use in your work? How do these choices of material and technique reflect meaning and context within your work?
HA: These days I source my materials from New York’s fashion district or in one of the many small specialty stores surrounding it. The store I usually go to is called A.K. Fabric and the owner of this shop is also from Afghanistan. He has many different cultural fabrics I am familiar with like the Ikat prints from central Asian countries, which I collect from him. I not only collect my materials from NY, but I also order fabrics from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Sometimes friends drop off fabric to my studio as well and these are the fabrics I end up naming ‘found fabric’ in my work. I have since realized that even the process of collecting resembles an amalgamation of different locations, places, and people—I enjoy having a sort of collectivity embedded within the fabrics in my studio without having a completely worked out answer as to where they are from. This also resonates with how I think about my identity as a fragmented body or geography that connects me to a world of in-betweenness, neither entirely one identity or another.
I use a quilting technique called fabric appliqué which involves lots of cutting and collaging. I begin by transferring my smaller colored marker or color pencil sketches onto larger sheets of brown paper. I take my time at this stage so that I can work through what the final scale of the work will be. Then at the end of this whole process there is a very distinct collective engagement with the material as if I am gathering patches or pieces from different locations and putting them together in order to make a whole image. This process allows me to search, engage, wander around, and make sense of all these disparate parts. My body is constantly in motion and responding to the changes in topography in the fabric.
AE: Your current solo show at Cooper Cole Gallery in Toronto, Canada opened on September 24 and runs through November 26, 2021. Can you tell us about this new series and how it is a departure from your previous bodies of work?
HA: Living during the pandemic allowed me to reflect more on myself and my own experience of living in the US. My art practice shifted because I became interested in questions revolving around home, belonging within the context in the US, and the everyday objects I consumed that were connected to Afghanistan. My new solo exhibition at Cooper Cole in Toronto, Canada presents a body of work that reflects on a new question of ‘home’ and memory after migration. The textile pieces explore observations on my domestic space that open a dialogue between emotive and imaginative aspects of cultural memory which touch on feelings of loneliness, isolation, love, intimacy, and longing.
AE: What and who are some of your major creative influences, and why?
HA: Recently I have been interested in looking at Do Ho Suh’s sculptural and immersive installation works. Since his practice is also deeply invested in memory and ideas of home, location, and placement, it has been interesting to see how he engages memory by using materials such as thread, polyester fabric, and stainless steel.
AE: What projects are you currently working on? Do you have any upcoming projects or shows in 2021-2022?
HA: I am participating in my first solo booth at NADA Miami later this year. This will be my first art fair with Towards Gallery. In 2022 I have two solo exhibitions lined up, one at David B. Smith Gallery in Denver, Colorado sometime in the Spring, and then another solo exhibition at Union Pacific gallery in London, UK that same fall. Lots of exciting things to work towards in the coming months and I cannot wait to get started on them.
HANGAMA AMIRI ONLINE: