A blog by Sara Surani

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This photograph was taken as a response to Khawar Mumtaz and Farida Shaheed’s “Women of Pakistan: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back” and Peter Awn’s “Indian Islam: The Shah Bano Affair.” These two pieces exemplify how women are often oppressed and thought of as inferior to men. Both pieces explain how political authorities and legal policies help place women in positions of subservience. Whether they are customs and archaic traditions that keep women in submissive positions, or the patriarchal structures that are often present in many Islamic societies, it is important to know that Islam as a religion does not discriminate against women. In this work, I illustrate the theme of identity. In particular, gender identity. In my photograph, a contemplative man is depicted. I decided to portray a man instead of a woman in order to challenge societal norms and question how our views on gender would be different if the roles were reversed. What if men’s participation was limited in the political field? What if the minimum age of men to get sent of to marriage was reduced from sixteen to puberty? What if laws were changed in order to finally give men the right to divorce from their wives if they are in an abusive, unfaithful, or unsatisfying relationship? What if men were viewed as inferior and women viewed as the superior gender? Usually, when one thinks of gender discrimination and inferiority (in the context of predominantly Muslim and South-Asian countries), one visualizes an oppressed woman. Yet, here, an oppressed man is shown. He is clothed in a black garb to symbolize a perceived loss of individuality and to emphasize how his identity is not limited to what he wears. I also attempt to draw parallels to the misconstrued motif that hijabs embody oppression. Moreover, he is depicted behind black bars—a metaphor for oppression. There are five bars in the photograph; each bar represents a different pillar of Islam. The man staring out into the distance signifies how it is not Islam that is oppressive, but rather, the politics and culture of the society he lives in. In other words, the oppression comes from external factors, “the outside.” Despite the apparent repression, the man’s face is illuminated with light. This light symbolizes hope—hope in the world, hope in humanity, hope that one-day individuals will be thought of as equals and will be encouraged to pursue their own identities.

December 9th, 2015 at 11:57 pm