It’s nice to know that some of your work is shown in different countries all over the world. And so it goes for the image above of the woman in white burqa.
As we speak the photo is part of the ‘Dream the world awake’ exhibition by Belgian fashion designer Walter van Beirendonck as a part of the inspiration wall shown in the RMIT University Design Hub gallery.
It’s a great reminder as well of the search to get this image and the lead up to my latest project ‘Us/Them’ that I’ve been working on in Belgium for the past year.
At the time I was in Pakistan working on the story ‘Because I’m a girl’ on rape victims in Pakistan when I received the request for an image of a woman in burqa. I had seen so many during the course of my travels in the country already that I thought it would be easy enough, so I accepted the assignment. It turned out to be a serious quest though and not that easy at all. I saw women in burqa everywhere, but the photographs were not good enough… Usually I was in a car traveling from one place to the next and the photo’s were on the fly sort of speak and either too far away, too crowded backgrounds, etc, etc…
When I tried again and Mrs. Aziz, a mother of one of the rape victims I worked with, was in the car with us and saw what I was trying to do, she was puzzled and asked what was going on. The girls I was working with explained to her and Mrs. Aziz said: ‘Oh but what’s the big deal, come back to my house tomorrow and you can photograph my burqa and I’ll get my neighbors one as well.’
We went back the next day and had so much fun with trying the burqa on, posing for the photographs, … women giggling and enjoying themselves.
I was really happy to get the photographs I wanted to make, yet Mrs. Aziz remained puzzled about our reaction to the burqa. She asked: ‘Oh don’t they wear burqa in her country then?’ …
I didn’t even know where to begin and how to start explaining… How do I tell a woman that hasn’t ventured out of her country or even her city, that in my country there is a burqa ban. That in Belgium, the headscarf has become such a loaded and negative symbol, that it’s banned in most schools. How do you explain to her that in Europe the veil is seen as a symbol of oppression, while for her the burqa is her way to get out of the house and go to work and support her family as a single mother.
Her question triggered a lot of questions in my own head about my own country and so it became the start of a very challenging yet inspiring project ‘Us/Them’ of which a small part will be exhibited in the ‘Rise of Populism in Europe’ exhibit in Utrecht (NL) this coming month.
Exhibition Dream the world awake » 17.07.2013 – 05.10.2013 » RIMT Design Hub, Melbourne, Australia, Admission is free
Exhibition The Rise of Populism in Europe » 01.09.2013 – 21.09.2013 » Zijdebalen theater, Utrecht, Netherlands, Admission 5€ (incl. entry to exhibition ‘House of Eutopia’ by Filip Berte)