The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE Magazine. 2016 The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE magazine. 2016 - Page 12

borrowed a hot pink burqa from a friend: imagine the possibilities. Q: What happens when you go home to Pakistan? Do you see attitudes on veils and burqa shifting recently? A: Things are changing. The ever-evolving fashion scene in Pakistan is one example, where the clothes are becoming daring, bold and dramatic, in complete opposition of the social climate and Islamic radicalization. However, this is not the norm, and these aren’t the masses I am referring to. Much of the country lies in poverty and illiteracy. As the income brackets change, so does the clothing. Some Pakistanis from liberal, educated backgrounds are privileged enough to un veil and can take that risk. These luxuries aren’t afforded to women and girls living in slums and rural areas who are forced to cover themselves due to their long journeys to schools and work. They endure harassment, sexual advances, constant stares and lewd remarks. Q: So the images you are creating in Toronto’s streets are almost like performances—and they play at that junction of what is public and what is shielded or partially hidden. A: We have been working all over Toronto with the burqa. Especially alleys with graffiti which Toronto is quite famous for. I enjoy alleys and side streets because of the anonymity: we usually do not know the identity of the artists behind the work. They work in dark, secretive conditions and disappear by daylight. Alleys are urban, concrete burqas. In a sense, you become fenced in with walls and all kinds of street art, with one, straight vision out onto the streets. When I place my subjects into the frames in their burqas, it becomes a veil within a veil, a frame within a frame. We happened upon the mural of the Afghan girl, adapted from one of the most popular photographs in the world by Steve McCurry, while exploring locations for shoots. Sharbat Gula, the girl he photographed, is now a middle-aged woman, wears a burqa and is displaced. Q: Your mother, Adeen Taji, is quite a famous artist—a noted poet and lyricist in Pakistan. What does she think of your work? Could these images exhibit in your home country? A: I understand that if I were to show my work in galleries in Pakistan, it would be for a handful of people. I find Pakistani painters like Iqbal Hussain and Sadequain (now deceased) to be more daring and provocative than photographers, especially on the themes of gender and sexuality. I also want to mention the particularly brave and quite extraordinary work coming out of Bangladesh right now, such as work by the photographer Gazi Nafis Ahmed. My parents are unique, I have big shoes to fill indeed. They strongly believe in education. They are both practicing Muslims, deeply religious in some ways. They always recall the saying by Prophet Muhammad: “Seek knowledge, even if it is as far as China.” They’ve invested in our careers, even in the arts. I wouldn’t be anywhere I am today without their support. [It feels like] I have two lives, one foot firmly rooted in Islam and Pakistan, while the other is exploring living an unconventional, liberal and experimental life in Canada. This personal narrative is a recurring theme . . . battling two opposing sides within myself that are trying to co-exist and accommodate one another. Religion is the only way I know my family. My exposure to Sufism, shrines, Islamic philosophy and Quranic recitation and memorization began at an extremely young age. It is a part of me that I will 12 OF NOTE Burqa and The City. © Mariam Magsi, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. never be able to separate from, no matter where I go and who I become, because that is the only way I can connect with those I love most. My connection to my family and their identities cannot be separated from religion. Q: Congratulations on your recent Pride Photo Award given in Amsterdam. Is your work having the effect on audiences you’d anticipated? A: Most folks I’ve spoken to in Toronto are extremely polite and politically correct over recent media over the niqab situation in Canada. I find most don’t know that the niqab and burqa are not mentioned in the Quran. Islamic reformists claim that covering hair is not mandatory, and that it’s been misconstrued over the years to disenfranchise women . . . that the only Islamic requirement is that of rightful conduct and modesty. Be assured these aren’t popular opinions. A limited number of people [in the Middle East] have looked at my work online, some with vested interest in the arts, and have been beyond encouraging to continue exploring the burqa. I have received some backlash, mostly online, that I have dealt with humorously. When I attended the award ceremony in Europe, discussions there about the burqa were the exact opposite [from Canada]. Viewers were truly passionate and wanted to have long engaging conversations about veiling, the way it [differs] spanning Muslim countries, whether it is empowering for some, oppressive to most, how to go about these issues? Dialogue is so important. 13 OF NOTE