By Albert Lanier
Northwest Asian Weekly
Editor’s note: Though Gazelle Samizay primarily works within her Afghan culture, many of her themes and elements of her life are universal. We know that many of our readers will find that much of her Afghan American experiences mirror their own Asian American experiences.
“It’s basically an inside look at an Afghan American family. The video will be specifically looking at three women who are revealing their families’ secrets as they prepare a traditional Afghan dish.” This is how artist Gazelle Samizay describes her latest work, “Noshe-e Jan.”
“Noshe-e Jan” means “bon appetit.” It makes its Pacific Northwest debut Oct. 2 when the project will be exhibited at the 4Culture gallery in Pioneer Square. The video illustrates Afghan women within their culture through the seemingly simple art of making a meal.
“It’s just sort of exposing — in a way — that facet of culture, which is to be very secretive and to hold a lot of pride in your family,” noted Samizay. “A result of that is that a lot of secrets get passed down from generation to generation. ‘Noshe-e Jan’ is a look at that.”
“Also,” she added, “it has a bit of a gender dynamic too, because the women are the ones that are mainly passing down the secrets and most of the secrets have to do with the men in their lives.”
Born in the city of Kabul in 1981 while Afghanistan was being occupied by Russian troops, Samizay left Afghanistan when she was just an infant, along with her family. The family first emigrated to Paris and then Washington D.C. before settling in Washington state and living in the town of Pullman.
Growing up in Pullman, Samizay did feel different from her neighbors and other children at times.
“It was always really divided,” she said. “Most of the kids in my school were Christian and I grew up Muslim and as a kid, you don’t understand why you don’t celebrate Christmas and other people do, or why your family does this or why nobody else does. So I definitely felt a little like an outcast. There weren’t many Afghans there, and I think compared to a lot of the other families surrounded by a community of Afghans, I had a different experience growing up in the U.S.”
However, the lack of cultural pressure that would have emerged had Samizay grown up within a more integrated Afghan community, coupled with an interest in art, led her to eventually study it.
Samizay attended the University of Washington where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in international studies and interdisciplinary art in 2004.
Though Samizay has worked in photography, she is most drawn to expressing her artistic vision through video. “I especially like video because you can combine the moving image with sound and then also a storyline,” she said. “I have tried to communicate stories in my photography work in the past but definitely having that element of sound gives a layer of depth that I haven’t been able to achieve in the past.”
Samizay admits that she has only gotten into doing artistic pieces via video in the past six months. “With a photograph, it’s like a snapshot or a single instance that you’re capturing whereas with video, it’s kind of like this continuous dialogue or narrative and one thing is moving from another very seamlessly.”
Samizay said she will continue to examine her culture and birthplace through art in the future. “Part of art making is being able to investigate yourself, and given that, culture is a part of me and part of my future work.”
“Noshe-e Jan” has been shown in film festivals in London but Samizay has no plan to transition into filmmaking. Currently, she is working on a master’s degree in photography at the University of Arizona. She plans to teach photography as well as work on her multimedia video pieces. ♦
To learn more about Gazelle Samizay and her work, visit www.gazellesamizay.com. “Noshe-e Jan” will debut Oct. 2 at the 4Culture gallery in the newer Electronic4Culture wing at 101 Prefontaine Place in Pioneer Square.
Albert Lanier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.