Find anything offensive in 24-year-old Sooraya Graham's photo of a Muslim woman in a niqab (full face veil) holding a fancy bra as she folds laundry? Other than the niqab, which I find troubling, the black and white photo itself is quite striking, but certainly not offensive. At least not from an artistic point of view. But Graham, who is a fine arts student at a Canadian university in Kamloops, British Columbia, has found herself in the middle of a controversy over her photograph. Apparently, the large photo (which was being exhibited at the university) was ripped off the walls by a university staffer after some Muslim students complained. The irony? Graham, herself, is a veiled Canadian Muslim, and simply wanted people to know that women who wear the veil are also human.
“You often see the stereotype of the veiled woman being oppressed. We all wear the same undergarments, do laundry, go shopping. I was leaving it open-ended for others to interpret the photo in their own way.
"What I really wanted to do with this image was (create a situation where) maybe some students or some faculty members would walk by and have the chance to have some time alone to stare at the veiled woman."
"So that maybe one day, when I walked down the hallways or encountered them around town, it wouldn't be such a shock to see me."
It's ironic that a photo attempting to humanize women (who are dehumanized by wearing clothing that literally covers them from head to ankle, save a slit for the eyes) would offend fellow Muslims. One would think that her efforts to create an understanding would be welcomed, but obviously not.
At least Graham understands freedom of expression, which is not something that is common in countries where women are forced to wear the niqab.
"Even though some people want to silence those thoughts or make them go away, we live in Canada where as long as we're not hurting another individual we have that right to express ourselves."The photo is now hanging in the campus gallery, but still causing controversy amongst fellow Muslims, and the Saudi Embassy funded Saudi Education Center in Kamloops has voiced its objections.
"There are things I encounter in the world I don't like or I don't agree with, but I would never take something down."
She's fortunate to live in a country where it's her choice to wear the niqab and not a mandatory requirement, and that she has the freedom to express herself freely. Her Muslim sisters in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan don't have that freedom. The photo is fine, it's the veil that I'd like to rip off her face.
Sources: HuffPo Canada, National Post, CBC