The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE Magazine. 2016 The Burqa Issue. OF NOTE magazine. 2016 - Page 52

Mahnaz Rezaie: Artistic Rage and Wishful Responses to the Burqa By Mahnaz Rezaie In 1981, during Russia’s occupation of Afghanistan, my father fled from a second draft and left for Iran. Shortly after, my mother and two older siblings joined him. I was born and grew up in Iran without knowing anything about the burqa, until I finished first grade and we returned to Herat City — my parents’ birthplace. In Herat City, it was the first time I saw my aunts wearing burqas. Their girls were fantasizing about having a burqa, which for them was similar to how girls nowadays fancy having a beautiful dress. Only married women and wealthy families had the luxury to afford buying a burqa. When a girl married, the groom gifted his bride a blue burqa with exquisite handmade embroideries. The burqa wasn’t as precious to me as it was to my cousins. I grew up seeing my mom walk out of the house bare face, wearing only her black veil. For the women in my family and for me, this was the ultimate way to cover. When the Taliban came to Afghanistan, my mom and older sister were forced to cover their faces. My mother continued to wear her black veil and added a black sheer niqab to it. However, my older sister, who was fifteen at the time, didn’t wear the burqa nor the niqab. She kept on wearing her black veil, though she knew it was dangerous. After two years living under Taliban regime, my family moved back to Iran. The insecurity, injustice, lack of job opportunities and schools, forced us to migrate to Iran for the second time. After the Taliban left, we returned to Herat City in 2002. The insecurity in Herat City continued even after the Taliban left. Girls were kidnapped and killed. 52 OF NOTE Deep Blue. © Mahnaz Rezaie, 2015. Courtesy of the artist. Observing the unsafe situation of Herat City, my brothers and relatives started pushing me to wear the burqa. It was then that my nightmare of the burqa began. When this blue thing was forced on me, it was not a beautiful cultural garment anymore. It was a blue net, thrown to fish my identity. Maybe if I was a girl who grew up in Afghan culture seeing my mother and sister wear the burqa, I would have worn it too without objecting. After all, we tend to follow what the majority of people do in a culture. However, I grew up in a separate culture and my standards were different. I had seen the freedom I and the women of my family had in Iran, so it was hard for me to be confined in a blue sack—or to accept the inferiority that I felt it brought. My brothers were influenced by the culture and were insisting that I wear the burqa. I argued with them for nights and days explaining that I didn’t want to wear the burqa because I wanted to be present. I wanted to work in the society, to interact with men and women face to face, to drive, smile and be seen. I didn’t want to be faceless. My reasons didn’t convince them. My father finally spoke and silenced everyone. “My daughter has the right to decide for herself,” he told my brothers. “You can force your own daughter to wear burqas when you get one.” He came to my rescue in a most crucial time. 53 OF NOTE