The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE Magazine. 2016 The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE magazine. 2016 - Page 28

But the composition of the image invokes a clear sense of the “caged” woman’s separation from what is vibrant, sensual, and colorful. Other images of women in the Akbar’s series are actually sculptures. In this representation of women as inanimate objects, Akbar exemplifies that the social constrictions, and not the individual women themselves, are what really matter to those who impose the burqa. The emphasis on women’s virginity as a symbol of family honor, and thus the object of control, leads Akbar to include nude depictions of women’s bodies. In a number of images, Akbar imposes verses selected from the Quran onto various parts of the sculptures of women’s bodies. The verses are those most often used to justify women’s unequal treatment. The text is in the shape of fingerprints. “In this country, women are being oppressed and their identities unfairly shaped by the limitations of these verses,” says Akbar of these images. Indeed, one might even read the Quranic ‘fingerprints’ on the women’s bodies as the ‘criminalization’ of women and their sensuality — as is evident in the image of the veiled women (pictured above) with an exposed breast inscribed with the Quranic verses. Akbar, in conversation with me, underscored without any ambiguity that for her, the burqa is “the worst thing to ever have been invented.” It forces women, she believes, to lose their self-confidence, and instead causes them to withdraw from the public sphere out of shame and fear. This is significant. The public space is where we negotiate with others, over rules and laws, ideals, and the distribution of resources, rights and obligations. Women’s absence from these spaces cements patriarchal control of men over women. “Women who wear the burqa lose their confidence about showing their face in public and feel themselves at ease in th e burqa,” she says. They become used to wearing the burqa, Akbar asserts, and eventually come to believe it is something good or normal, even though it is against their rights. Akbar herself has worn a burqa while working on the Invisible Captivity project. “The feeling was awfully disgusting. I couldn’t see clearly and the worst thing was that nobody could see my face, my expressions, and my smile,” she says. Akbar accepts that exhibiting this work creates risks for her safety in a part of the world where challenging women’s confined status elicits backlash — even though she hasn’t yet received any serious threats yet. She says, “But if the extremists trace (my work to me), of course they can harm me.” “In this project, I have spoken up about taboos that nobody wants to talk about — the religious and cultural things that work against women’s rights and the superstitions that have held women in captivity for ages. As an artist, I felt it was my responsibility to create this work,” she says. “I was born free and I believe freedom is in my blood. Even if the whole country works against me and my rights, I will stand up and fight for the free and valuable life that I deserve.” “It can be risky but I believe changes happen when people dare to break the taboos and sometimes walk on the edge. Changes don’t happen without sacrifice.” Invisible Captivity. © Rada Akbar, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. 28 OF NOTE 29 OF NOTE