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PARIS — Kubra Khademi is a feminist Afghan artist who lives in exile. She was forced to flee her home country in 2015 after receiving death threats for her audacious performance “Armor.” During the eight-minute solo, she walked down the streets of Kabul in a steel breastplate emphasizing her feminine forms, denouncing public harassment of women in a severely conservative culture. The violent backlash that followed forced Khademi into hiding and, later that year, Hyperallergic featured her on an annual list of its “most powerless people in the art world.”
Six years after she sought asylum in France, it would be difficult to describe Khademi as a “powerless” artist, figuratively or literally. The Galerie Eric Mouchet in Paris is currently showcasing a new collection of gouache paintings that the 31 year-old has made in the last year as an inaugural resident of the shiny new Fondation Fiminco. The show has garnered high-profile press in her adopted country (which awarded her citizenship last year), including in the pages of its two biggest newspapers, Le Monde and Libération.
The images on display in her solo exhibition, several of which include and portray the erotic writings of the 13th-century poet Rumi, are an homage to what Khademi terms the “below-the-belt” language that many Afghan women use amongst each other, coded and often crude. It’s an oral tradition of spirited resistance to the patriarchal order that Khademi first observed being used by her mother (whom she describes as “one of her biggest inspirations”), an illiterate woman who married at the age of twelve. The show’s title, From the Two Page Book (meaning: “from my ass”), comes from a phrase Khademi fondly remembers her mother coyly employing in the face of her husband’s incessant demands, without him being wise to her allusion.
This sense of cheekiness and playful vulgarity is most apparent in a pair of images titled “Bagage de route #1 and #2,” in which a young huntress proudly carries home (#1) and then proceeds to roast over a campfire (#2), a comically large, dismembered phallus. It shows itself more discreetly too, in a series of smaller, monochrome close-ups (titled “Deviant Visions”) in which labia are revealed to be hiding in other bodily corners: an armpit, the gentle inner folds of a bent knee, an ejected tongue that has rolled itself into an inviting tube. Each also includes a different Rumi poem in golden Persian script, such as in “Deviant Vision #8”: “Do say this and do this and that / I summed up the myth of women.”
Khademi’s figures — stark, naked, smooth, clear-eyed — take obvious delight in mocking faux-sacredness towards women and girls, a pervasive attitude that purports to revere and protect but that, in fact, condescends and diminishes. In her largest work to date, the five feet-long, four-feet high “Première ligne (Quadriptyque),” a female avatar morphs from pregnant human to centaur, from divine warrior to egregiously taking a shit. It’s a full-frontal experience that is sacred, profane, and ordinary all at once.
Kubra Khademi: From the Two Page Book continues at Galerie Eric Mouchet (45 Rue Jacob, Paris) through April 3.