The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE Magazine. 2016 The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE magazine. 2016 - Page 38

Ahaad Al Amoudi: The Burqa as a Well-Worn Modern Mask By Zaynab Odunsi (Editor’s Note: In Saudi Arabia, the burqa is oftentimes referred to as “the niqab” — another form of face covering. For the purposes of this article, “burqa” is employed to reflect the artist’s use of the term.) In her 2014 installation, Open Culture, Saudi Arabian artist Ahaad Al Amoudi’s acrylic masks line up like faceless soldiers. Molded from plastic, each of the twenty masks in the series are laser- etched with intricate unique designs that take their cue from nature and the body. Curious and complex, they demand attention, bearing witness to how the burqa acts as a well-worn modern mask. The series debuted in 2014 when Al Amoudi was 22 years old and studying at Dar Al Hekma University, the progressive all women’s university in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It marked the start of what Al Amoudi sees as a powerful metaphor in her art practice — the masks as symbols for both the burqa and the Internet personas we create of ourselves. Al Amoudi has never worn a burqa in public; it is not a social practice amongst the women in her immediate family. But as a girl who spent her formative years in the United Kingdom, and who returned to Saudi Arabia as a young woman at age 14, it was inevitable that she would struggle with social norms, like the burqa, upon being back. Women wearing the burqa is common in Jeddah, although not obligatory. Many instead wear beautifully colored and patterned abayas — a long outer cloak — over their clothing, and often pair it with the hijab (headscarf ). At Dar Al Hekma, Al Amoudi formed deeply meaningful relationships with young women from more conservative backgrounds who wore the garment publicly. At the same time, she saw them begin to use the Internet and social media to take on different personas and socialize virtually, while still remaining relatively anonymous. Coupled with her experiences in both the West and Middle East, these observations prompted Al Amoudi to explore the questions: “Why does the Western world see the burqa as a barrier to integration and communication, instead of a freedom as expression? How does a simple black fabric on a woman’s face create so much outrage and controversy that it warrants laws to be made against it?” The selection of portraits below from the Open Culture series is Al Amoudi’s attempt to arrive at an answer. She continues to explores these questions as a young emerging artist in the Master of Arts program at the Royal College of Art in London. Open Culture. © Ahaad Al Amoudi, 2014. Courtesy of the artist. 38 OF NOTE 39 OF NOTE