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Muslim Women Defining Identity

Week 10: Reform, Revival, and Muslim Women Defining Identity

LINK:  Women in Islam  [Please click the link to view the artwork]

Scheherazade’s text from this week provides the central theme for this piece: “[Western feminists] were not only blind to the degree of social influence Muslim women actually possessed, but they also failed to consider how Muslim women interpreted their own status and needs.”  The main point I tried to convey with this digital piece is that the issue of women’s empowerment against a backdrop of patriarchal societies is not about someone in power deciding what social norms should be enabled/enforced, but instead about how a woman herself thinks about her own agency and power.

For this piece, I started by taking a photograph of a friend of mine in whatever outfit she had on for the day, and then digitally and manually (with marker) edited different versions of the same photo to produce varying degrees of “conservatism.”  I also took another photo of her in a different outfit she had chosen to wear another day.  I put myself in the work by marking up and editing the photos to represent side-by-side varying views of “progressive” women’s wear – I represent the patriarchal society who expresses opinions (in the form of editing choices) on women’s fashion.  The center photo is the original, unedited, posed (and approved) by the girl in the photo.  The left and right photos are filtered in greyscale to emphasize their artificiality.

The title across the top begs the question of what direction from the center is progress. This refers to conflicting views about how communities define progress.  One might consider Islam as a progression out of the Jahiliyyah (“Period of Ignorance”) and the modesty of veils as a sign of modernity.  On the other hand, one might consider veiling as oppressive, as in Persepolis’ graphic portrayal of the 1980s obligatory veiling of women in Iran.  The quote bubble above the woman addresses the question of progress by implying that the question is misguided, and in fact the real issue is considering a woman’s interpretation in a given context instead of projecting biases onto someone in a different context than your own.