Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Burqa and Nicab - A choice or a suppression?

Arguments abound on the purpose and meaning of the burqa, the voluminous head to toe outer garment, and nicab, the full-face veil, of Islam. Critics of these garments are often derided for a lack of cultural savvy resulting from their uninformed prejudice, or, strangely their "racism" or "sexism". Intrinsic to my protest of these garments is that they contribute nothing toward advancing women's rights (as is the claim) and do more to harm the cause for all women's liberation and self determination and in particular harms efforts to advance the human rights of Islamic women.

The inescapable facts surrounding these garments are that they:
- instil and reinforce a religiously endorsed gender inequality (only women are required to cover their person in such a manner in public, Koran 33:59); and
- reinforce a religiously derived idea which regards women as the sexual possession of men to be a normal part of any social contract that might exist between men and women in Islam (Koran 2:223). Women in Islam are the property of men whom they must obey for fear of physical punishment (Koran 4:34).

The word "Islam" literally translates as "submission". Whether one cares to acknowledge it or not the burqa and nicab are more than a symbolic submission of the female. The female submits before what is arguably the most patriarchal of religions. Where it claims that it protects and elevates, it instead makes the wearer, visibly invisible in order to control and in so doing devalues the gender due to its gender. When the sound of a woman's walk is prohibited (in strict Islamic regimes) and the visibility and presence of women directed to be hidden (Koran 24:31), then any culture, religion or society should weep for it is not in tune to its humanity.

In 2010 I exhibited four new paintings, physically and in video format, illustrating this contradiction that women have choice and are free in Islam and are protected by the burqa or nicab if not elevated by these garments. I intend my paintings challenge the "elevation" and "protection" argument as well as highlight the misconception that the burqa and nicab are somehow a matter of fashion or choice, thus providing the wearer with security and empowerment. Rather, I contend that the evidence suggests they represent symbols of ongoing, antiquated religious and cultural suppression of female sexuality, independence and self-determination.
Baleful Worship - Submission, Isochronos - Metamorphosis with Niqab, Freedom I and Freedom II are a continuation on my general theme of religious protest, this suite of four are remarking on the characteristics of Islam in it's attitudes to women as well as what is expected of its pious followers. Traditionally a key is symbolic of control. However, in Isochronos - Metamorphosis with Niqab, Freedom I and Freedom II, control, independence, time (progress) is illusory. In Freedom II the keys are rendered useless and the subject slowly disintegrates behind her veil. Indeed in three of the works the figure is barely animate and whereas a metamorphosis such as with Isochronos..., normally produces improvement and new life a stasis results.
My work deliberately attempts to pose what can be challenging questions about life, sex, death, religion, politics and ethics. The thematic arena of my work ranges from human rights to the philosophical. The figure is the pivot and focus for the viewer, the figure is humanity.

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About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.