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An Artist's Journey Through Central & South Asia

Updated: Mar 12, 2021

By Fatimah Hossaini Lead Editors: Tahmina R. & Palwasha A.

Fatimah Hossaini is a revolutionary photographer who we at the Pvblication have admired for a long time, and we are honoured to introduce her as our first collaborator. Fatimah’s work conveys the romanticism that shapes the way so many of us experience our cultural identities. Her camera sees the world in vivid colour, where the beauty and spirituality of the past is combined with the vitality of the contemporary art scene to create art that makes us feel that we are discovering something incredibly rare with each look. We’re honoured to have her, as she takes us on a journey through her incredible artwork and explores the work of three of her central and south asian contemporaries.

This is The Pvblication’s first digital gallery: Welcome.

Fatimah’s Artistic Journey

The first time I held a paintbrush, I was fourteen and living in Tehran. Living a refugee life wasn’t easy – I had a profound interest in art from a very young age but it was barely possible for us to get a proper education in art until I turned fourteen. I was not destined to be an artist – a woman like me, born into an Afghan family seeking refuge in Iran after years of war in Afghanistan. My parents dreamed of me becoming an engineer. I was a mathematics major and received a degree in industrial engineering from the University of Tehran. However, I knew that being an engineer was not my calling in life because deep inside, I loved art. I had this instinct and passion for it. Therefore, I gathered all the courage in me to pursue my passion. When I decided to enrol into my second bachelor’s degree in photography, I went from one male dominated field to another. I started from scratch and went through another four year degree. During that time, I found my voice through the lens of my camera.

I have built my artistry through years of carefully curated images, with the desire to show my global audience images from the Global South that contrast the norm of what is expected. One of the biggest decisions I made was to return to my roots, to go to Kabul, in 2013. It was the first time I had felt the soil of my ancestral land, after twenty-two years of living as a refugee. I had the honor of being a lecturer at Kabul University in 2018 whilst developing my portfolio and in 2019 founded ‘Mastoorat’, one of the first female founded art organizations in the country, committed to the promotion of the arts and culture in Afghanistan. Mastoorat’s main objective is to provide educational opportunities for Afghan artists, promote their art and use the soft power of art to create a more forgiving narrative of the country. It’s named after the first school for girls in Afghanistan by queen Soraya during the Amani dynasty.

I believe my passion to pursue staged photography comes from my exposure to visual arts, where I am allowed to be led by my imagination. My work touches on themes of identity, gender and migration. As an Afghan woman artist, who works to empower Afghanistan’s art society, I want to break the boundaries and work as an international artist so that the rich Afghan art and culture can be introduced to audiences across the world as something that inspires and connects us all.

First Collections (2015-2017)

The burqa was one of the symbols I began with in my art, to deconstruct it, better understand its role and purpose in Afghan society. It was the blue fabric that became synonymous with the image of Afghan women. However, it was not an accurate symbol for Afghan women and it was not how I wanted to be portrayed on the global stage. I wanted to be part of the movement in reclaiming the identity of Afghan women. Below is a still from my photo series Burqa which explores femininity within Afghan society.

‘Burqa Behind the steering wheel’ / 2015, staged and captured in Tehran, Iran

As time passed, the Burqa became a cliché for me. I couldn’t accept it as the symbol for Afghan women. When I commenced my next collection, “Khurasani Reflections”, I wanted to focus on showing the rich culture of pre-war Afghanistan. This photo series features women in their traditional garb from Afghanistan’s different tribes. In this collection, which is captured in my studio in Tehran, I have mixed the traditional garbs of Afghan women.

‘Khurasani Reflections’ 2015 – 2017, staged and captured in Tehran, Iran

For instance, an Uzbek woman wears Hazaragi jewellery, Pashtun scarf, and a Qazalbash hat to capture the different faces of Afghan women, and highlight our ethnic diversity while showing the rich cultural heritage within our textiles. The fabrics, jewelleries and styles are from different regions of Afghanistan. In this collection, the different clothing styles of Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek and Qazalbash women are displayed.

‘Khurasani Reflections’ 2015 – 2017, staged and captured in Tehran, Iran

Photography Since Her Return to Kabul (2018-present)

When I returned to Kabul in 2018 with the mission of working as an artist in Afghanistan, I immersed myself in finding new parts of my motherland that I had not been exposed to. I returned to the same war zone my family escaped from, knowing that I wanted to produce art that could inspire future Afghan generations with focuses that were outside of war, conflict and struggle. I wanted to bring dignity back to how Afghanistan. The move was one of the biggest decisions of my artistic career.

I found myself discovering the heritage streets of old Kabul, highlighting the civilizations that have passed through Afghanistan. ‘Koche Kah Foroshi’ (bird market), ‘Koche Morgha’ (chicken street) and ‘Burj e Shahrara’ are some of the most famous landmarks in Kabul and were a marvellous experience to shoot at. I was also able to find material from different periods of Afghan history to include in my shoots.

‘Pearl in the Oyster’ 2019, staged and captured at ‘Koche Morgha’ in Kabul, Afghanistan

It was the images of ancient towers, palaces, and some urban symbols such as the Kabul taxis, markets, street food and vendors and the street style of the elderly men who line the streets as day labourers, that inspired me so much.

‘Pearl in the Oyster’ 2019, staged and captured at ‘Koche Morgha’ in Kabul, Afghanistan

In my latest photo series, the photoshoot for which is ongoing, I have created images of Afghan women, with their exclusive clothing against traditional backdrops. Their beauty and femininity will be showcased and framed into an artwork of Afghanistan’s diverse culture and traditions.

‘Pearl in Oyster’ 2018 – 2019, staged and captured at ‘Koche Kah Foroshi’ in Kabul, Afghanistan

These faces with their unique looks, aside from breaking taboos and the cliché image of the Burqa, will be captured with respect to their traditions. Women who may be calm, shy, coquettish or feminine. This photo series will highlight the beauty of femininity, and specifically, reflect a different face of the Afghan woman, who have usually been seen as a victim. The beauty and resilience of Afghan women alongside our forgotten cultural objects will be captured and displayed.

‘Pearl in Oyster’ 2018 – 2019, staged and captured at ‘Koche Kah Foroshi’ in Kabul, Afghanistan

A Journey Through the Contemporary Asian Art Scene: Our Favourites.

I have worked in this region for years now and these are some of my well-known contemporaries from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran who are all inspired and motivated by their experiences. For instance, Iranian artists tend to be inspired by current political issues. In Pakistan, it's different, their artistic expression is mostly driven by their colonial history. In Afghanistan, contemporary artists post-Taliban are focused on war, personal and cultural identities, nationality, gender, and pluralism.

Shamsia Hassani is Afghanistan’s first female graffiti artist. Through her artworks, Shamsia gives Afghan women a different face with power, ambitions, and willingness to achieve her goals. Her work has brought in huge waves of colour and appreciation of the post-war era.

Hassani’s graffiti in Kabul, Afghanistan

Her artworks have inspired hundreds of Afghans to bring in their creativity through her graffiti festival, art classes, and exhibitions in different countries around the world.

Hassani’s latest artwork, Kabul, Afghanistan

For more, visit:

Saira Wasim

Saira Wasim is a contemporary artist from Lahore, Pakistan and is currently living in the United States. Wasim uses the miniature style of painting, extensively used in historic South Asia to make political and cultural art.

‘Europa’ ink and gouache on wasli paper, 2015 painted in Lahore, Pakistan

Wasim says: "My work uses the contemporary miniature form to explore social and political issues that divide the modern world. This series, ‘Battle for Hearts and Minds,’ illustrates the clash between imperialism in the West and fundamentalism in the East, and questions the underlying motivations and uneasy alliances that keep this conflict going. My work offers a voice against this ignorance and prejudice. It pleas for social justice, respect, and tolerance through the use of caricature and satire.” For more, visit

‘East versus west,’ gouache on wasli paper, 2007 painted in Lahore, Pakistan

‘Noor Jehan 2’ gold and gouache on wasli paper, 2001 painted in Lahore, Pakistan. Dedicated to the Queen of Melodies.

Parviz Tanavoli

Parviz Tanavoli is lauded as the father of modern Iranian sculpture. Since 1989 he has lived and worked both in Tehran and Vancouver, Canada. In 2005, he created a small piece of sculpture called Heech in a cage to protest the war crimes committed against American-held prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and in 2006 began work on his piece to honour the victims of the Israeli-Lebanon war.

Different angles of ‘Heech’ sculpture on display in Tehran, Iran

Tanavoli is known for his three dimensional representations of the Farsi word heech. Composed of three Persian characters in the Persian calligraphy style of Nasta'liq, the three letters he, ye and če are combined to produce the word, which translates to “nothing”. For more, visit

Different angles of ‘Heech’ sculpture on display in Tehran, Iran

A Final Word.

Fatimah Hossaini is the kind of creative who we here at The Pvblication genuinely admire in our personal lives, and thus are so proud to showcase on our platform. She is an artist who moved back to the warzone her parents left. She made this decision because she saw the gap in the world’s narrative about Afghanistan and she wanted to showcase her Afghan roots in a truer light, to be part of the movement in bringing her countrywomen’s voices to the fore. Her art is a coming together of her history and the desire to change a present she cannot accept, and in it we see the power of a woman who looks at a seemingly insurmountable obstacle and rolls up her sleeves.

In the visual journey she takes us on through the arts and culture scene in Central and South Asia we see how art is used to give expression to lost voices and forgotten histories. Fatimah’s reflections on some of her favourite contemporaries around the Asian art scene in Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan is an invaluable insight into thriving movements and revolutionary inspiration that we don’t often get exposed to here in Australia, and Fatimah herself embodies the spirit of this art movement driven by resistance.


Check out the rest of Fatimah’s work:

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