The investigative manoeuvring of personal memory and familial photography as a form of non-hegemonic archival research cannot be reduced to autobiography; Hilal negotiates visual embodiments and aesthetics of the quotidian in the ways in which we live, reside, dress, and relate to one another — as fundamental to the art an artist chooses or refuses to create. The intentional lack of symmetry, technical perfection or stylistic cohesion work in defiance to disciplinary and institutional formality. Yet, Hilal places great emphasis on figurative drawing as a form that can be visually engaging and graspable, regardless of the positionality of the viewer and their viewing habits.


The strategic subjectivity and nostalgia in meddling with the self and family archive permits Hilal to see beauty, tenderness and dignity in places she previously felt shame and otherness. By re-membering familial togetherness, she is re-narrating and re-imagining a shared human experience that is often excluded from hegemonic visual education and seeing habits.

>>In her latest work, which she describes as semi-autobiographical, Moshtari is inspired by members of her family. She draws crowded scenes of different generations huddled together on a couch or around a birthday cake for a photograph. The intricate patterns on the tapestries and scatter cushions she draws, and the traditional dress of some of the subjects, mix cultural heritage with recent history. “Most of my research is based on family photographs from the early 1990s and 2000s, during the civil war and our collective escape as refugees from Kabul,” she explains. << (excerpt from an interview with WeTranser )

The figure of the mother remained an antagonist, embodying a life that the artist actively resisted until the mother entered her work. Moshtari Hilal learned to reconcile with the otherness of her mother by looking at her like an artist looks at her muse. She explores the realisation that in a world of social constructs and neoliberal individualism, there is nothing more genuine than one‘s origin. Origin is however not equivalent to modern concepts such as the nation-state or geographical categories, but the person who raised and gave birth to the artist. In her work Hilal aims to create a visual language that is informed and shaped by the most subjective in her life - which became her hair, her nose, and her mother.

>>Thick brows accentuate the dark eyes of the women in her works and prominent noses rise between them. Black hair lines their upper lips and grows down their forearms below their sleeves. These black markings stand out in sharp relief against the white of the paper she draws on, as deliberate as her desire to create a space where people who look like her are visible and celebrated. (...) When the body positive movement started to gain ground and diversity became a buzzword, Moshtari was disillusioned to watch how poorly it lived up to its promises. “Somehow those responsible managed to cast people who still looked very similar; the closest to what a caucasian face was expected to look like,” she says. “So you would have campaigns about diversity in beauty, and the ‘ethnic’ tokens would still have a European button nose — not too wide, too big or too flat.” It wasn’t just noses. Faces were never too round or too long. Skin was smooth and hairless, “as if body hair was a total aberration in nature,” Moshtari says. “This narrow image of facial beauty deeply affected me as a young girl.“I felt like an alien — absent in most of the visual content that was produced. Specific faces would be either invisible or singled out for negative character traits.” Moshtari’s response is #embracetheface, a portrait series and social media movement encouraging people to appreciate their own facial features. On the internet she found her audience in the Afghan, Muslim, South Asian and Middle Eastern diaspora.


“Embrace The Face is about understanding that we internalized years and years of colonial propaganda about what is supposed to be beautiful and good,” she says. “Our self-hate became someone else's profit. Just look at the market in the Global South and its population: we are being offered highly toxic bleaching products, both for facial hair and skin. Companies like Fair & Lovely are selling the most in South Asia and Africa. There is also a huge market for rhinoplasty targeting ‘ethnic noses’, and these are only two examples of many.” Using her pens as a tool for change, Moshtari draws a variety of faces that she doesn’t see in the arts and mainstream media. She started with herself though – one of her first art projects was a series of self-portraits, inspired by Frida Kahlo’s radical approach to the art form. “My early work is mainly learning about myself – as an artist and object of artistic practice,” she says.<< (excerpt from an interview with WeTranser )


“To what extent is my visual imagination restricted by the beauty standards that flood all media every day?

How can I resist, or even reclaim, my sense of aesthetic?”