Aziz Hazara’s Transformative Artworks Grapple with the Never-Ending Conflict in His Native Afghanistan

Born in the mountainous central province of Wardak, Afghanistan, and currently living between Kabul and Berlin, Aziz Hazara has developed a rigorous multivalent practice centered around photography and video. Alongside his performances and installations, his short films and images engage the identities and social relations that have been blasted apart and reconfigured by military occupation, sectarian conflict, and economic sanctions that have haunted his homeland.

Hazara surveys histories of Afghanistan that bleed beyond its borders, transforming ordinary objects and everyday occurrences B into weapons to be used in a never-ending conflict. He catalogues these transformations as a gesture of remembrance for those reduced to human collateral, and as an act of defiance against the normalization of violence. Monument (2019) is a two-channel video of a memorial site for 48 students killed in a suicide bombing by members of the Islamic State in Khorasan. One channel shows the bombing site in the distance, marked by flags and posters; the other zooms in on the posters with photos of the victims, giving their dates of birth along with the phrase: “For what crime was s/he killed?”

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a clothesline in front of a brown mud wall with several neon yellow safety vests hanging on it
Aziz Hazara: Chapter 1: Coming Home, 2021–22, from the three-part series “A Gift to the American People.”

“Living under occupation,” Hazara said, “you are basically confronting these kinds of deaths on the street, with soldiers walking around. What happens when these bodies occupy new landscapes? For me, it’s a different weight, whether it’s from what I personally experienced or through understanding that people have a personal connection with the land.”

One way of distilling the politics of Hazara’s practice is through its critique of what imperialist foreign policy has left behind. Takbir, 2022, shown in his recent solo show at the nonprofit Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, is a video diary of Kabul at nighttime in the aftermath of the American military evacuating in 2021, after two decades of occupation. Viewers can see very little save for a blur of lights emanating from distant buildings, while faint sounds attest to the presence of children and reverberations of the call to prayer.

A gift to the American people, 2021–22, commissioned for the 58th Carnegie International, is less subtle: for this work, Hazara shipped 20 tons of garbage from Bagram Airfield, former site of the largest United States military base in Afghanistan. While en route from Kabul to Karachi and the Gulf to the West—the same path by which US military equipment and manpower reached Afghanistan during the war—this flotsam of American empire was labeled as art, to avoid US regulations prohibiting the import of waste material. After more than a year in transit, Hazara’s elegiac gift addressing the bureaucracy of international commodities exchange has generated a deluge of images, videos, and documents in its wake. This too is a gift: a haunting record of a past, and a present, that is still to be reconciled.


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