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Finding their voices

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Filmmaker Fazila Amiri (above); Still from her film, Gerreh.

Born in Kabul, Hangama and Fazila Amiri and their family fled Afghanistan in 1996 with the arrival of the Taliban, fleeing first to Pakistan, then to Iran, then to Tajikistan, and finally arriving in Canada in 2005.

Both sisters are now studying at NSCAD University. But while they’ve adjusted to life in Canada, they can’t forget the troubled homeland they left behind.

As an independent filmmaker, Fazila looks at the impact on human rights in Afghanistan and Canada’s military presence there.

Her first short film Paaizeb, about two child brides, was screened at the 41st Montreal World Film Festival, and Gerreh, her thesis film, debuted at the Atlantic Film Festival. 
Gerreh—a Persian word for “tying the knot” —will also show next month at the Autumn Human Rights Film Festival in Kabul and at Communications Nova Scotia’s Diversity Film Festival at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. It tells the story of an immigrant Afghan bride who experiments with democracy in her new multicultural Canadian land. Shot last winter with a nonprofessional cast, the film was funded by Film Nova Scotia.

“Through cinema, I can express my experiences, the things I have seen,” says Fazila, 23. “By making films, it’s helped me to understand what my voice is as an artist. I’m so grateful for the support and understanding of my professors.”

She is currently developing her first feature film, with hopes that it can be shot in Kabul.

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Painter Hangama Amiri; Painting from the Wind-Up Doll series, on display at the Anna Leonowens Gallery.

Fazila’s younger sister Hangama, a painter, is also bringing her art before an audience:  the exhibition The Wind-Up Dolls opened at the Anna Leonowens Gallery on Monday, Sept. 27. It consists of a series of portraits of six Afghan women, whom she met on a visit to her native Kabul last year.

“When you’ve been raised in four countries, you get a bit of conflicted identity,” explains Hangama, 22, a fourth-year student majoring in fine art. “And I find myself thinking back to where I came from and what I would be like if I stayed. These women who I met have lived under oppression and in a male-dominated society … I feel as an artist I can bring their stories alive.”

Presented with the Lieutenant Governor’s Community Volunteerism Medal at the President’s Convocation on Wednesday, Sept. 21, Hangama says she expresses her appreciation for her life in Canada by volunteering. But like her sister, she is drawn again and again to where she comes from.

“Canada gives me the luxury to focus on my education and to find my voice as an artist,” she says. “I will always be so grateful for that.

Read the latest issue of VIVID

VIVID-30

Volume 23, Winter 2015

Featuring stories on Governor General's Literary Award winner Sydney Smith;  Halifax's art district, Prof. Gary Markle's Worn Well fashion line; and a profile of high school art teacher Anna Whalen.