Behnaz Babazadeh: The Bitter Sweetness of Reinventing Burqas

0 Flares 0 Flares ×


Fruit Loop Cereal BurkaFruit Loop Cereal, Burkaphilia. © Behnaz Babazadeh, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

I gave in and removed my burqa. I felt defeated and embarrassed. It wasn’t the stares, but this experience—I was being treated as if I was some sort of monster, a villainous terrorist—that angered me the most. — Behnaz Babazadeh  



“…that is how to create a single story. Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

In the United States, burqas stand out; like a bikini-clad or scandalously-dressed woman in the middle of Afghanistan, they are marked as inappropriate. And in the larger West, the burqa is shrouded in layers of myth and misunderstanding. It is this mystery—of how something seemingly benign in one country would be seen as inappropriate in another—that fuels the artist and designer Behnaz Babazadeh to create dialogues about cross-cultural biases between East and West.

Babazadeh spent her girlhood in Afghanistan and Iran, moved to the United States at age seven and now resides in the Washington, D.C. area. She remembers family members wearing burqas throughout her childhood, although the practice was not something she indulged in herself.

Nevertheless, she felt connected to the garment and while growing up in the United States, she witnessed how often it was misrepresented and met with silent scrutiny. “I was instructed not to wear my headscarf when I first came to this country,” she said. “But I didn’t know how important that moment was until later.”

Through an American lens, burqas actually have the opposite effect of their original modest intent for women: to draw less attention and to be seen as proper. In the U.S, burqas stand out; they are often seen as red flags of the supposedly peculiar and the other.

Babazadeh’s personal history with the garment allowed her to recognize that this view of the burqa is what the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie deems the myopic “single story.” As an artist and designer, Babazadeh wanted to better understand this iconic symbol of her heritage. And, as an Afghan-American living between cultures, her double-consciousness compelled her to explore the multiple stories of the burqa.

“How do you shift this negative expression of my culture?” she questioned. “How do you change the conversation? How do you make a different dialogue happen?”

The answer came wrapped in something that most people desire: candy.


gummybearGummy Bears, Burkaphilia. © Behnaz Babazadeh, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.


Babazadeh began taking pictures of herself in all kinds of burqas. Experimenting with everything from sugar cubes to cotton candy to Fruit Loops, she would literally change the image of the burqa by changing its substance. She found the most success with gummy bears and Fruit Roll-Ups. These remixed garments would eventually form her multi-media series, Burkaphilia (video, installation, and self-portraiture). The title, she explains, “was to express my obsession with the garment.”

In a TEDxMidAtlantic talk (September, 2015), she described a painful experience of wearing a burqa through the New York City streets as a pivotal moment that sparked the creation of Burkaphilia:

“As I casually traveled through the subway, feeling the piercing stares from fellow commuters, I arrived at my school’s building entrance and was immediately stopped. This security guy, who I regularly exchanged conversations with, looked at me intensely and demanded that I remove my veil. He tried to explain that it was for the safety of the students and I was trying to argue religious freedom.

Alas, I gave in and removed my burqa. I felt defeated and embarrassed. It wasn’t the stares, but this experience—I was being treated as if I was some sort of monster, a villainous terrorist—that angered me the most.”


fruitxthefoot (1)Red Burka (Fruit Roll-Up Licorice), Burkaphilia. © Behnaz Babazadeh, 2012. Courtesy of the artist in collaboration with E. Adam Attia.   


Before moving to the U.S., Babazadeh remembers her father returning from trips abroad with gifts of Western food and candy. She describes these moments as “super exciting” and recalls savoring every bite of these magical gifts. “I had this connection to the West before even coming here,” she said. When searching for materials and processes to facilitate the fresh dialogue she desired, she drew upon these childhood memories.

Additionally, during her research for the installation, Babazadeh met several women and men who linked the burqa to beauty and freedom—an important counter-narrative often lost on Westerners. Via her conversations, she was reminded of the burqa’s historical roots as a status symbol—similarly to how certain clothing signals wealth in the U.S. Yet, instead of being covered in exotic fabrics of the elite, her burqas wrapped women’s bodies in something edible.

By covering what is itself a cover, Babazadeh interrupts stereotypes. Through candy’s association with the positive, Burkaphilia inspires new conversations about the burqa. It is the very unique materials the artist employs that soften the viewer’s gaze and connects burqas to sensory associations of joy, sweetness, and innocence.

For Babazadeh, this playfulness echoes alternative, sweeter narratives of the burqa—those that she knows exists.



Gia Harewood is a multi-media artist, educator, and writer with roots in the Caribbean and Brooklyn, New York. She is currently in CUNY’s Applied Theatre program and graduated from the University of Rochester and University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) with a specialization in English, African American and Caribbean Studies, and Political Science. In her academic life, her research interests revolve around masculinity, popular culture, film and social justice. She has taught pedagogically innovative classes at UMCP, Strayer University, The Art Institute of Washington, and The George Washington University.





OF NOTE Magazine is free to readers, free of advertising, and free of subscriptions—all made possible by generous supporters like you. Your tax tax-deductible gift will help us continue to feature innovative and emerging global artists using the arts as tools for social change.
OF NOTE Magazine is a fiscally sponsored organization of the New York Foundation for the Arts, a 501 (c) (3), tax-exempt organization. All donations are 100% tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.

0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×


444 Responses to “Behnaz Babazadeh: The Bitter Sweetness of Reinventing Burqas”
  1. golden goose says:

    I intended to create you the little word to finally say thanks a lot the moment again with the exceptional guidelines you’ve contributed in this article. It has been simply tremendously open-handed with people like you to grant extensively what exactly a lot of people might have distributed as an e book to make some bucks on their own, chiefly considering the fact that you could possibly have tried it in case you wanted. These guidelines likewise served to be a fantastic way to understand that other people have the same desire similar to mine to understand a good deal more related to this issue. I’m sure there are many more pleasurable instances ahead for individuals that take a look at your blog post.

  2. SEX says:

    The info talked about inside the article are some of the very best available

  3. louboutins says:

    I simply desired to say thanks yet again. I do not know what I would’ve accomplished without those tips discussed by you over such a field. Previously it was a frightful difficulty in my position, nevertheless witnessing a new professional way you resolved the issue took me to cry over delight. Now i’m happier for this support and thus have high hopes you are aware of a great job you’re doing educating some other people all through your website. Most likely you’ve never encountered any of us.

  4. magnificent points altogether, you just gained a new reader. What may you suggest in regards to your publish that you simply made a few days ago? Any sure?

  5. I intended to write you one little word to help say thanks as before just for the precious secrets you have featured on this page. It was really incredibly generous of you to supply unreservedly exactly what most people would’ve distributed for an e book to get some bucks for their own end, mostly now that you could possibly have done it if you ever decided. Those suggestions as well acted to become great way to be certain that many people have similar passion similar to my personal own to know the truth good deal more when it comes to this issue. I am certain there are numerous more fun opportunities up front for folks who browse through your blog post.

  6. Thanks a lot for providing individuals with an extremely special possiblity to read in detail from this website. It’s always so ideal and also full of a good time for me and my office peers to search your site at least three times every week to see the fresh guidance you have. And indeed, we’re at all times astounded with the great advice you serve. Certain 2 areas on this page are surely the very best I have had.

  7. curry 5 says:

    I wish to express appreciation to the writer for rescuing me from this particular crisis. As a result of surfing around throughout the search engines and coming across advice which were not helpful, I believed my entire life was gone. Living without the presence of answers to the difficulties you have sorted out all through the write-up is a critical case, as well as the kind which could have adversely damaged my entire career if I had not encountered your blog. Your own personal training and kindness in taking care of the whole lot was invaluable. I am not sure what I would’ve done if I hadn’t come across such a subject like this. I’m able to at this point relish my future. Thanks for your time so much for this specialized and effective guide. I will not think twice to refer your web blog to any individual who needs and wants guide on this situation.

  8. I think this is among the most vital info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But should remark on some general things, The site style is great, the articles is really excellent : D. Good job, cheers

  9. brcko says:

    Very good information. Lucky me I ran across your site by chance (stumbleupon). I have book-marked it for later!

  10. very handful of sites that transpire to be comprehensive below, from our point of view are undoubtedly well worth checking out

  11. PORN VIDEOS says:

    always a huge fan of linking to bloggers that I like but really don’t get quite a bit of link appreciate from

  12. Needed to post you one very small observation to help thank you very much as before for all the beautiful views you have shared at this time. It has been certainly surprisingly generous of people like you to provide publicly precisely what some people would’ve sold for an e-book to help with making some money on their own, even more so now that you could have tried it in case you decided. These solutions in addition worked as a fantastic way to realize that other individuals have the identical dream like my very own to learn significantly more in respect of this condition. I’m certain there are a lot more pleasant opportunities up front for many who read carefully your website.

  13. I actually wanted to send a quick remark so as to say thanks to you for those superb tactics you are giving at this site. My extended internet research has now been recognized with high-quality facts and techniques to share with my family members. I ‘d suppose that most of us visitors actually are rather endowed to dwell in a good site with very many wonderful professionals with useful concepts. I feel extremely privileged to have used the webpages and look forward to really more fabulous moments reading here. Thanks once more for a lot of things.

  14. africa trip says:

    I have not checked in here for a while as I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are good quality so I guess I will add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

  15. street art says:

    Very efficiently written information. It will be helpful to anybody who utilizes it, as well as myself. Keep doing what you are doing – for sure i will check out more posts.

  16. There is noticeably a bunch to know about this. I consider you made some good points in features also.

  17. Thanks for your entire effort on this blog. My mum takes pleasure in conducting internet research and it’s really simple to grasp why. My partner and i hear all concerning the dynamic form you convey invaluable secrets through the blog and even attract response from some other people on that theme while our own princess is starting to learn a great deal. Take pleasure in the rest of the new year. Your doing a superb job.

  18. we came across a cool web site which you may appreciate. Take a appear in case you want

  19. nasonex says:

    please take a look at the web sites we follow, including this a single, as it represents our picks in the web

  20. Fashion says:

    I dugg some of you post as I thought they were handy very useful

  21. Wow, awesome weblog structure! How lengthy have you ever been running a blog for? you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your web site is great, as neatly as the content material!

  22. hello there and thank you for your info – I’ve certainly picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise several technical issues using this site, since I experienced to reload the web site a lot of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but sluggish loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if advertising and marketing with Adwords. Well I’m adding this RSS to my e-mail and can look out for much more of your respective exciting content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

  23. DOTA 2 says:

    I am now not sure where you are getting your information, however great topic. I needs to spend a while studying more or understanding more. Thank you for great information I used to be on the lookout for this information for my mission.

  24. As I web site possessor I believe the content material here is rattling magnificent , appreciate it for your hard work. You should keep it up forever! Best of luck.

  25. usually posts some quite interesting stuff like this. If youre new to this site

  26. we came across a cool web-site that you just may possibly delight in. Take a look when you want

  27. we like to honor lots of other net web-sites on the internet, even if they arent linked to us, by linking to them. Under are some webpages worth checking out

  28. dating sites says:

    My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right. This post actually made my day. You can not imagine just how much time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

  29. I just could not go away your web site prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the usual info an individual supply on your visitors? Is going to be again ceaselessly to check up on new posts

  30. Travel says:

    Hi, i think that i saw you visited my blog so i came to “return the favor”.I’m attempting to find things to improve my web site!I suppose its ok to use a few of your ideas!!

  31. Whats Going down i’m new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & aid other customers like its aided me. Great job.

  32. Google says:

    Wonderful story, reckoned we could combine several unrelated data, nevertheless really really worth taking a search, whoa did 1 learn about Mid East has got much more problerms too.

  33. Home Design says:

    Pretty section of content. I just stumbled upon your web site and in accession capital to assert that I get in fact enjoyed account your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement you access consistently quickly.

  34. says:

    that may be the finish of this article. Here youll uncover some web-sites that we assume you will enjoy, just click the links over

  35. we like to honor a lot of other world-wide-web web pages on the net, even when they arent linked to us, by linking to them. Beneath are some webpages really worth checking out

  36. News says:

    Perfectly indited content material, Really enjoyed looking at.

  37. we like to honor a lot of other world-wide-web web-sites around the net, even when they arent linked to us, by linking to them. Beneath are some webpages worth checking out

  38. Very good post. I will be experiencing many of these issues as well..

  39. we came across a cool web page which you may well enjoy. Take a search should you want

  40. Here are a number of the internet sites we advocate for our visitors

  41. Fashion says:

    I truly appreciate this post. I have been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You have made my day! Thank you again!

  42. My family always say that I am wasting my time here at web,
    however I know I am getting experience every day by reading thes good articles or reviews.

  43. There is definately a lot to know about this topic. I like all of the points you made.

  44. check below, are some absolutely unrelated websites to ours, on the other hand, they may be most trustworthy sources that we use


0 Flares Facebook 0 Twitter 0 0 Flares ×