Editor’s Note: The Art of the Burqa

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Grace Ali. Headshot. 2014


editor’s note: The Art of the Burqa 

The burqa—an aesthetically stunning style of the veil, usually blue or black, with a mesh over the eyes—has evolved into the controversial and the divisive. No longer is it seen as a garment worn by some Muslim women to cover their bodies in public, a marker of religious identity, a desire to separate spiritual space from the outside world.

It is now symbol—of oppression, of religious freedom, of citizenship.

While many employ the burqa as fodder for debate, the Artists Of Note we’ve selected for The Burqa Issue use their creative voice and art practice to examine the complicated experiences of the women who actually wear the burqa—by choice or by force. These multi-disciplinary global artists employ the burqa, actual and symbolic, in their photography, documentary film, poetry, graffiti, street art, murals, sculpture and painting, to trouble our perceptions.

While their art questions, provokes, defends, indicts, or unapologetically takes a stance for or against the burqa, it is art that is first and foremost deeply personal, before it is political. Each of these women know intimately, and at times painfully, how the world encounters women donned in burqas because they have worn them or borne witness to stories of the women they love—their mothers, sisters, aunts, matriarchs and friends—who have.

It is this offering of their deeply personal and intimate art that allows us to probe the contradictory and counter the political:

How do we de-politicize the burqa? How does dress become so intertwined with religion? With citizenship? Is the binary that the burqa is either a tool of oppression or a symbol of religious freedom a failure? How are our debates and intellectualisms failing the very women who wear the garment?

Can we honor a woman’s desire for the sacred solace the burqa offers? Can we find value in a spiritual philosophy that a woman’s body is not for public consumption?

Although none of the artists take on the role of a spokesperson, here in this issue, women speak for women. The team behind The Burqa Issue are all women. They bring to bear roots from Afghanistan, Algeria, Canada, Guyana, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, and the United States to elevate the voices of the women who wear the burqa.

Many of the writers who collaborated with the artists to write their stories entered into these cross-continent conversations bravely—they either knew little about the politics that enshrouds the burqa, or they subscribed to the view of the burqa as symbolic of the physical and psychological oppression of women, or they believed that banning a woman from wearing a burqa is equally oppressive as forcing her to wear it. After our writers filed their stories, each of them had their stances disrupted—and beautifully so.

The Burqa Issue is not prescriptive. We offer no blueprint to our readers on what stance they should take, we only unveil how deeply complex the burqa is. As a means to understand the burqa in all its beauty, contradictions, and failures we turn to Art. Not because the art of the burqa grants us  answers. But because, to echo the words of Princess Hijab, the Paris-based artist who employs the veil as a symbol in her street art: “I choose the veil because it does what art should do: It challenges, it frightens, and it re-imagines.”  


Editorial Director & Founder
Grace Aneiza Ali
Celeste Hamilton Dennis
Guest Digital Curator
Mahnaz Rezaie
Brishkay Ahmed
Rada Akbar
Ahaad Al Amoudi
Hangama Amiri
Behnaz Babazadeh
Shamsia Hassani
Mariam Magsi
 Mahnaz Rezaie
Afghan Women’s Writing Project
Joanna Demkiewicz
 Celeste Hamilton Dennis
Erin Haney
Gia Harewood
Christine Malvasi
Zaynab Odunsi
Rajul Punjabi
Bureen Ruffin
Suzanne Russell
Stephanie Seguino


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