Employing the common cultural reference of hopscotch (named "lay lay" in Iran and "joz baazi" in Afghanistan), the artists explore the universal struggles that girls face as they grow into adulthood. The character relives the personal and political moments of her past, such as war, marriage, generational trauma, and gendered social expectations. The particularities of their experiences as women of Afghan and Iranian heritage fed the artists’ collaboration, though Gazelle Samizay grew up in the US and Labkhand Olfatmanesh grew up in Iran, allowing them to create a universal story rooted in specific cultural intersections.
Bepar (Hop) - Excerpt
The game of hopscotch becomes rigid and challenging as the shattering effects of war and patriarchy are illuminated in each step of a young girl’s journey.
My shadow is a word writing itself across time (2017)
The fear of internment of Muslim Americans is very palpable and real given the history of Japanese Americans in the US. This fear prompted me to visit Manzanar, CA, one of ten Japanese American concentration camps. Upon encountering the landscape I was reminded of Afghanistan--the mountains against the open blue sky, the dry earth, but also the landscape of forgetting. Whether it is the incarceration of Japanese Americans or the US’s longest war in Afghanistan, injustices are made invisible, normalized and forgotten.
Manzanar has been the site of multiple oppressions. In 1863 the US military forcibly relocated 1,000 Paiute Indians to make way for farmers and ranchers, and in 1929 ranchers and miners were forced to relocate when the City of Los Angeles purchased the water rights to the area.
Standing in Manzanar meant standing at the intersection of these histories of aggression. It meant confronting the grief, anger, and betrayal embedded in the land beneath our feet. What is denied does not disappear; what is buried must surface. What would it take--and what would it mean--for the U.S. to face its shadows? Tracing my own shadow with the searching words of Afghan American poet, Sahar Muradi, I began to explore this question.
My shadow is a word writing itself across time - 1 min. clip
HD Video, 6:05, 2017
4 Hands 4 Walls: An Architecture of Remembrance (2017)
Home is an idea as much as it is a physical structure, transcending borders and generations. “Wazir Akbar Khan,” a neighborhood in Kabul whose name my father, Rafi Samizay, adopted to refer to the home he designed and built in Afghanistan, has been a part of the collective family imagination for as long as I can remember. Its contemporary design has evoked both awe and nostalgia at the painful memory of abandoning it to flee Soviet occupation.
As a structure that has bared witness to an aspiring architect, an elite Western German diplomat, a group of resisting Afghan women seeking sanctuary, religious fanatics during Taliban rule, and finally the surveillance station of the American intelligence agency, this house reflects the anguish of a country who became the battleground of superpowers, and whose indigenous population has paid with their blood for the vanity of outsiders.
There were many others who by chance, desire or decree, left a trace in this house. An uncle planted a grapevine hoping that someday he would sit under its shade and have tea with his brother, but soon fell victim to a night homicide. A sister gifted her walnut tree, dug out from her own yard, because they were difficult to come by. A university colleague brought trees from his village north of Kabul to memorialize his friend’s house, but vanished a week later. Then there was the East German former history professor and UNESCO high official, who discretely visited my father. Disturbed by the policies of the government in power and its foreign backers, his fate was not too different from local Afghans and his free thinking cost him his job and detention in his country.
My father and I collaborated to create a model of this house, and in the process, I uncovered new stories about our life. I saw him, with excitement and anticipation, rebuild the room where my sister slept as a child, and the window he sneaked through to snoop on Soviet activity next door. I realized that the greenhouse he had appended to our house in Pullman, WA was not novel, but the successor to a floor-to-ceiling glass room on the façade of “Wazir Akbar Khan.” Upon looking at the small-scale version of her home, tears welled up in my mother’s eyes, a previously absent expression in regard to her memories of Afghanistan. Finally, I saw my 8-year-old nephew look, with glee and fascination, through the round circles of the courtyard, a defining design element of the house. It was as if this collaborative artistic process created a space to pass and process grief, allowing the next generation to simply admire its design, unmired by the melancholy and weight this structure has carried for the rest of us.
Buildings have feelings. They are formed not only by their human creators, but by those that come into contact with them. They express the spirit of their time, whether that is joy or scars. This house, in a corner of Kabul, bears as much the burden of history as the humans that surrounded it.
Ravel is a symbolic story set in a desert landscape with only a lone woman and tree interrupting the endless dunes. Adorned with glass vessels, the woman drags them through the sand behind her. A tree holds them out of reach on its branches, relics of unfulfilled hopes and dreams hanging in limbo between creation and completion. Although seemingly empty, the glass vessels are her burden, trailing behind her as she finds her own way.
Ravel - 2 min clip
HD Video, 7:51, 2014
im/pure shows the ambiguous, transformative space of self-creation. A woman stands in water looking at her reflection. At times it reflects her outward appearance, the ideal perfect, pure woman, while at other times, it reflects her inner psyche, one that is marked by grief, shame and guilt. In between, there are fragments of both selves represented as one identity morphs into another in a continuous cycle.
The ephemeral quality of the image illustrates the fluid and fragile nature of one’s identity or sense of self.
1 minute excerpt from im/pure
HD Video, 59:12 (loops), 2011
In a bittersweet extrication, a woman "cleans house" by casting away relics that have defined her womanhood--broken expectations of love and rigid standards of female purity.
Left - One minute excerpt
HD Video, 2:51, 2011
Upon My Daughter (2010)
Several women collectively embroider the wedding dress of a young bride as she wears it. Each stitch symbolizes one piece of advice she is given. Individually, the threads are very delicate, but amassed together their strength becomes visible, symbolizing the powerful, yet complicated bonds between the women in this family.
Upon My Daughter - 1 min clip
HD Video, 6:30, 2010
Upon My Daughter - 1
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Upon My Daughter - 7
"This will be the last—" (2009)
In an effort to escape her marital problems, a woman preoccupies herself with washing a seemingly clean bed sheet. Constrained by cultural stigmas and pride, she will not leave her husband. However, all the past memories of the relationship metaphorically seep out of the sheet. Soon, she feels the burden of keeping silent, and realizes that she is complicit in her own misery. Instead of escaping her problems, she is consumed by them, until they render her powerless.
"This will be the last—" (One minute excerpt)
SD Video, 5:30, 2009
9,409 miles (2009)
Over the past forty years, millions of Afghans have fled their homeland, living as permanent guests in countries around the world. Their new homes are at once a blessing and a painful reminder of what was lost. In 9,409 miles the viewer watches an architect, who, after leaving Afghanistan more than 30 years ago, is still longing for the house he built and was forced to leave. The impact of dislocation is also felt by his wife, whose efforts in creating a new home will never be enough. Absorbed in recalling the memories of his old house, the architect pays no heed to his wife preparing him breakfast. However, the architect’s ruminations are abruptly interrupted, signifying the futility of clinging to a home that only exists in his imagination.
9,409 miles - 1 minute excerpt
SD Video, 5:00, 2009
Nosh-e Jan (Bon Appetit) (2008)
In Nosh-e Jan (Bon Appetit) the viewer is invited to witness the ritual of passing and consuming secrets within an Afghan-American family. The ritual serves as an outlet of expression for the women that bear secrets, without violating the strict code of keeping face. Though the secrets are shared in three different languages (Pashto, Dari, and English), the secrets transcend the generational divides of an immigrant family. While the women are the main transmitt
Nosh-e Jan (Bon Appetit) - One minute clip
SD Video, 6:15, 2008
Stereotyping the Asian Feminine (2007)
Stereotyping the Asian Feminine explores the definition of 'stereotype' as the repetition of an image. Given that television and films are merely a string of still images moving at a fast rate, they are a perfect medium for creating and disseminating stereotypes. My intent was to take a look at stereotypes as a whole, including different groups of people. I started by taking photos of various movies from the 20th century, double and triple exposing the film. Unfortunately, I was overwhelmed by material and had to narrow my focus to Asian women. As I watched the films, I saw that the stereotype of Asian women could not exist on its own, and was defined vis-à-vis other groups, such as Asian and white men. These stereotypes were further defined by the political climate of the time, namely World War II and the Cold War. Asian men were portrayed as evil, mischievous and “feminine” in comparison to “masculine” white men. Asian women were portrayed as vamps, sexual, exotic and at the service of strong, white men. As time has passed, elements of these stereotypes have changed while others have remained the same. Stereotyping the Asian Feminine questions what stereotypes are being created every minute in millions of homes across the nation. The exhibit also begs the question: Is the media creating these stereotypes or merely reflecting the attitudes of our society?
Flower Drum Song (1961)
Daughter of the Dragon
Daughter of the Dragon (1931)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1936) and archival footage
Harry's Hong Kong (1987)
First Kiss & Master and Servant
Walk Like a Dragon (1967)
Daughter of the Dragon (1931)
The Red Enemy
Teahouse of the August Moon (1956) and image of Chairman Mao
You Only Live Twice (1967)
The Yellow Peril
'Ming the Merciless' in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1936) and 'Fu Manchu' in The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
Dorothy Lamour, Disputed Passage (1939) and Lana Turner, The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938)
Afghanistan: Beyond the Burqa (2005-2007)
I went to Afghanistan because it had been a mysterious place for many years to me. I was born in Kabul, but my family left a few months after I was born. My whole life I heard stories about how amazing Afghanistan once was--how peaceful it was. I saw pictures and it was impossible for me to imagine that the same Afghanistan I saw on the news was the same one my family was raised in.
After the US invasion I didn’t know what to make of the whole situation. I knew that removing the Taliban was a positive thing, but I was tired of seeing the same old tired images of Afghanistan on the news—the reel of Osama Bin Laden operating his training camp as his soldiers climb monkey bars and fire Kalashnikovs. I knew there was more to Afghanistan than that one–sided image.
I decided to see what Afghanistan was like for myself and tell my friends back home what I saw. They say people fear what they don’t know, and my intention was to show that there’s more to Afghanistan than Osama bin Laden. I wanted to show that like many Americans, Afghans are just trying to get by, to have a family, to send their kids to school, and to see their grandchildren born. In that sense, I hope that this show will create a little more understanding between these two distant countries.