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 beautiful scarf, which she wore over her head to the school playground. She told me that the other kids ran from her screaming terrorist. I also noticed behavioural differences in people around me when I wore the scarf over my head in our neighbourhood, Steveston, in Richmond, BC, Canada. When I had a photo of myself in hijab on my Facebook profile I received numerous “unfriendings” and even serious threats from people whom I consider colleagues and friends.
I began wondering how Muslim women who choose to wear hijab feel about how they are treated. A study by Dr. Chris Allen at the University of Birmingham showed that 80% of the anti-Muslim threats reported in the US were directed towards women who were wearing a hijab, burka or niqib. Many Muslim women report that they don’t feel safe in much of Europe and North America.
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?
My intention is to explore how women feel about wearing hijab and other more extreme coverings such as the burka and niqab, as well as various head coverings in other cultures and how it affects their life in the west. 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 headcoverings? How does the head covering relate to their personal and cultural identities?
The project would encompass two dimensional art pieces on the wall, both representational and others figurative. I would like to add in sound with some of the images with whispered conversations about what people are saying about them.
There could also be talks from women in the community about wearing certain head coverings from both perspectives, those who have lived in areas where they were forced to cover and those who live locally who choose to cover.
Another aspect of the exhibition could be to have scarves and even a niqab that women could wear around the exhibition as well as have their images taken, which would become part of the exhibition.