Behind the Veil

April 26th, 2012 at 10:08 pm (Uncategorized)


I was intrigued by Professor Asani’s discussion about the three academics debating the relevance and significance of the hijab- one Islamic scholar argued that it represented oppression and another argued that it represented freedom- especially in the context of African Islam as African slaves were stripped of their Islamic identity in the US and modern African Americans are able to reclaim the right to an Islamic identity.  The third American scholar was criticized for wearing make-up, which the first Islamic scholar viewed as a kind of hijab. The theme of identity and the Hijab has prevailed throughout our readings. In Persepolis, Satrapi dedicates the opening chapter of her graphic novel to the veil as seen though the lens of a child and reflects on it explicitly and subtly throughout, often asserting mutual exclusivity between the veil and its traditional religious implications and modernity, science, and progress. Hossain’s utopian society in Sultana’s Dream depicts the veil as a necessary evil when coexisting in a society of lustful men which women are liberated from when they take the leadership role in society.

The hijab, like many elements of Islamic identity, means different things to different people. As we do so often with the cultural studies approach, we must ask “What Islam? Whose Islam?” to get an accurate and full perspective.

My art project portrays women wearing the veil, looking externally similar, but internally unique. To achieve this, I used print making to create several similar veiled silhouettes of women and within these prints using pen and calligraphy to portray the characteristics that make them unique, whether they are singers, dancers, scientists, poets, teachers, or mothers.

This piece will be interpreted in a number of ways depending on the observer’s view of Islam. Some will interpret the piece as having a pejorative attitude toward the veil- that it makes unique individuals conform to a single perception. Others will see the veil as a positive force in unifying a diverse Muslim population. Others will see the message that first impressions and quick judgment force us to generalize and ignore the nuances and uniqueness of individuals. The aim of the piece is to play with people’s perception and the idea that we see what we want- in society, in people, in art as a product of our own preconceived notions and viewpoints. The more limited our viewpoint, the less meaning we can draw from any of these.