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Abdul, Lidalocked

(b Kabul, June 5, 1973).
  • Sarah Urist Green

Afghan video and performance artist and photographer, active also in the USA. After fleeing Soviet-occupied Kabul with her family in the late 1980s, Abdul lived as a refugee in Germany and India before moving to Southern California. She received a BA in Political Science and Philosophy at California State University, Fullerton, and an MFA at the University of California, Irvine, in 2000. Abdul first returned to a post-Taliban Afghanistan in 2001, where she encountered a place and people transformed by decades of violence and unrest. Since that time, Abdul has made work in Kabul and Los Angeles, staging herself in performances and creating performance-based video works and photography that explore ideas of home and the interconnection between architecture and identity.

Beginning in the late 1990s, Abdul made emotionally intense performance art informed by that of Yugoslavian artist Marina Abramović and Cuban-born American artist Ana Mendieta. At the time unable to travel to Afghanistan, Abdul created and documented performances in Los Angeles that probed her position as Afghan, female, Muslim, a refugee and a transnational artist. In House Wheel (2003), Abdul pulled a toy house on wheels with a rope down the city streets of Los Angeles, engaging with her continued interest in transience, exile and nomadic cultures in Afghanistan.

Abdul began filming performances in Afghanistan in 2004, and the scale and scope of her video works—now set against vast, desolate landscapes in and around Kabul—expanded considerably. Recruiting participants from the city’s streets, Abdul staged performances in which she and the citizens of Kabul grapple with, confront and imagine alternative possibilities for the ruined architecture that surrounds them. Her video White House (2005) was exhibited in 2005 at the 51st Venice Biennale, where she was selected to be the first official representative for Afghanistan in the exhibition’s history. The video documents the artist’s three-day process of painting white the ruins of a bombed house that was once part of the presidential palace. Abdul staged another symbolic, ritualistic action in Clapping with stones, Bamiyan (2005), which depicts the former site of the Taliban-destroyed 6th-century Bamiyan Buddhas and a group of men gathered in a circle nearby knocking together stones retrieved from the area. By occupying and activating these sites of violence and decay, Abdul and her compatriots bear witness to the destruction of Afghan cultural heritage and enact powerful, poetic gestures of memorialization and hope.

Abdul’s influences are wide-ranging and include Sufism, Persian literature and mythology, Gordon Matta-Clark’s ‘building cuts’ of the 1970s and the films of Sergei Parajanov. She has stated the difficulty of making artwork as a woman in Afghanistan and her inability to find women willing to participate in her videos. Thus men appear in her works and, more recently, children, who figure predominantly in In Transit (2008). Featuring a group of boys engaging with the bullet-ridden skeleton of a Russian military airplane, In Transit documents their fantastical effort to fill the plane’s voids with cotton and attempt to fly it like a kite. Recalling German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys’s notion of ‘social sculpture’, Abdul’s open-ended narratives create visual spaces in which participants and viewers alike reflect, mourn, and confront history.


  • S. Raza: ‘By Invitation Only: Lida Abdul’, Art Asia Pacific, 43 (Winter 2004–5)
  • C. Hopkins: ‘Between the Monument and the Ruin’, C Magazine, 93 (Spring 2007)
  • H. Truong: ‘Interview with Lida Abdul’, ArtSlant (Oct 2007) (accessed 7 Jan 2010)
  • R. Caragliano and S. Cervasio, eds: Lida Abdul (Turin, 2007)
  • R. Cavallini: ‘On Coming Close to the Skin of the Real: In Conversation with Lida Abdul’, Umēlec International Magazine (2007), pp. 92–5
  • R. Catching: ‘Lida Abdul: Landscapes of Remembrance’, Art Asia Pacific, 57 (March–April 2008)