bullet from a gun

mohsen hossaini

mohsen hossaini is a kabul-based painter who depicts stark images of the street life in his city. the people in his paintings are alienated individuals of the modern landscape, scratched upon the canvas in bare lines, coloured in blacks and vein-pulsing reds. he communicates a world in which one is caught in the prison of the self - though others surround no true communication occurs. communicating a reality of the tortured, the barren and alone, hossaini also spends time working as an animator and director.
interview with i.t.a.

check the mohsen hossaini gallery

mohsen thanks for speaking with us at powder. i find your paintings both breathtaking and confronting, in a way that leads one to question the human condition.

so mohsen what is it like to be an artist in kabul today? are there restrictions placed on artists and were there in the past? how has any of this affected you?

There were a lot of restrictions on artists particularly during the Taliban era, but now the situation is much better and now, as an artist, I can work relatively freely. I still have some level of fear from fundamentalist groups and this fear inclines me to put restrictions on my work.

what is the art scene like in afghanistan? is there a big art community?

There are individual artists who work independently, but the overall community is small. Growth in this field has been very slow and the reason for it is we have a very limited audience. In the capital Kabul, one decent sized art exhibition would have no more than a hundred visitors, most of whom are artists themselves.

where does an artist exhibit in kabul?

There are very few art galleries here and artists find it very hard to exhibit their work because the galleries have their own sets of rules and conditions. The reason for that is most of the art galleries are in fact dependent on other organizations to help them host an exhibition. There are a few galleries which have good setups, but it is very hard to get access to them. I wanted to exhibit my work at the French cultural institute but couldn’t get a single response from them.

your work seems to portray lonely individuals who are cut off from the rest of the world. how would you describe what you are conveying in your pieces?

In my opinion every work that I complete is an abstraction of what is going on in my surroundings. Looking at my work it is difficult to realize that it has been inspired by the Afghan society. Three things have heavily influence my work, first, the time I spent in exile, second are the streets of Kabul and the last is the bullet that has been shot from a gun.

what is the process you undertake when you’re creating a work? where does your inspiration come from?

The inspiration comes from the surroundings that I live in but I distort and twist those ideas in my mind. Once the idea becomes clear, I get a very strong urge to paint, sometimes the urge to paint becomes so great that I end up making more than 30 paintings in an hour. I only stop when I have all my ideas transferred onto paper.

which artists inspire you in the modern afghan scene? are you inspired by any artists from the west?

There is no artist in Afghanistan that has had any particular influence on me, but I am aware of the work of most of the classical and modern western artists. I cannot say which artists have had particular influence on me. I intend to have my own unique experience.

besides art what other aspects of culture influence your art?

Music, cinema and literature have had influence on shaping me as an artist.

what led you to become an artist? was there a moment when you realised you must follow that path?

There wasn’t really a specific moment when I realized that I should follow this path. As a kid I loved to draw and I continue to draw to this day. I have always had a sense of transferring onto paper whatever makes me happy or sad.

what was life like growing up in afghanistan for you? what were the sorrows and the joys?

During the Soviet occupation, while I was still a kid, my family left for Iran. I grew up in Iran and I received my education there. Now, it has been ten years since I returned to my country. Life is difficult here, particularly for artists. There is a level of freedom here but everyone is living under a constant stress. We don’t feel safe and we fear that we might get killed at any time. Despite all the difficulties, there are joyful moments every once in a while. This place is filled with ideas, bitter or sweet.

what is modern day life like in kabul at the moment?

Modern day life in Kabul is very different for different people. For normal people, it’s hard and the same goes for artists. For most politicians it can get very lucrative. I would say the answer to this question is highly subjective and it is dependent on who is answering it.

what projects are you working on at present and what will occupy you into twenty fourteen?

My first project for this year is to have an exhibition for my caricatures. I have named the exhibition “toilet”. I am also working on an animated short film which I hope to complete within this year. At the end of the year I would have another exhibition, named, “pedestrian”, for my paintings. These are my plans and I have to stress the fact that they will be accomplished on the condition that I am still alive.

mohsen, thank you once more for being a part of afghan powder. we find your works touch the viewer, at times in ways they may not be ready for. we look forward to seeing your coming pieces.

check out the mohsen hossaini site