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Is a piece of cloth that covers one’s head really a symbol of oppression?
Returning from Iran I gave my eight year old daughter a scarf, which she wore over her head to the school playground just because she thought it was beautiful. She told me that the kids ran away from her screaming and yelling “terrorist!”. I have also noticed behavioural differences in people around me when I wore the scarf over my head in our neighbourhood, Steveston, in Richmond, BC, Canada (as in no one smiled and people would cross away from me on the path). When I had a photo of me in hijab on my Facebook profile I received serious threats and “unfriendings” from people whom I consider colleagues and friends.
I began wondering how Muslim women feel in our community. A study by Dr. Chris Allen, University of Birmingham, is showing that currently 80% of the anti-muslim threats reported are toward women who were wearing a hijab, burka or niqab. Many Muslim women report that they don’t feel safe in much of Europe and North America and the situation seems to be getting worse with the current political climate.
There seems to be a perception in the west that hijab is forced on women in Muslim culture and that they need to uncover to be set free. Are Muslim women really able to choose to go against their culture and not wear hijab. What about those who say they choose to wear hijab? To what extent is it cultural or religious? How does it define their identity?
1. To explore how Muslim women feel about wearing the hijab as well as other coverings, including the burka and niqab. Is it their choice? Why do they choose to wear a certain covering? Are they oppressed? How does the head covering relate to their personal and cultural identities? How does that affect those who are forced to cover?
2. How do “we”, as non-Muslims, respond to them in our community? When we see a woman wearing a scarf is she perceived as being spiritual or a terrorist? How does hijab relate to other cultures where women wear head coverings?
The project would encompass two dimensional art pieces on the wall, both representational photographs and others as figurative work. Its purpose is to provide various perspectives of women wearing hijab to create dialogue, curiosity, and ultimately acceptance.
For the representational work I would like to add in sound with some of the images with whispered conversations using words found online, contrasting both positive and negative reactions.
Another aspect of the exhibition is to have scarves and even a niqab and/or burka that women could wear around the exhibition for an additional sensory experience. Visitors can also have their images taken on the opening night or at an assigned time, which would become part of the exhibition.
The exhibition would also include one or more talks from women in the community about wearing certain head coverings from different perspectives, including those who have lived in areas where they were forced to cover, those who live locally who choose to cover, and those against it.
“Never think of a hijabi as an oppressed person, they may have more freedom than you do.” Kai Darul, hijabi, 22
“Like a half-naked woman, a veiled female to me represents an affront to female dignity, autonomy and potential. Both are marionettes, and have internalised messages about femaleness.” Yasmin Alibhai-Brown