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Burqa Exhibit Coming to Flatiron Gallery This Weekend

"The Art of the Burqa" will explore art by and about the women who wear the garment.
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Of Note Magazine/Ahaad Al Amoudi

FLATIRON — A burqa made out of gummy bears, photographs of veiled women posing provocatively, and more will the focus of discussion at a Flatiron gallery on Sunday as part of a symposium exploring the experiences of women who wear the full-body garment.

The symposium, called the Art of the Burqa, opening at Pen + Brush Gallery at 29 E. 22nd St. on March 6, will feature art, writing, and discussions by and about women who wear the burqa either by choice or by force.

Rather than rehash political debate over the burqa and how they affect women, the show's organizers set out to use it as an artistic muse. Some of the artists whose work is on display in the show come from countries where the burqa is common, and sought to explore their conflicted feelings through visual art.

The show will include the film installation "My Motherland" by Fazila Amiri and Hangama Amiri, and symposium participants include artists Mariam Magsi, and Brishkay Ahmed, and readings by writers Rajul Punjabi, Bureen Ruffin, and Gia Harewood, among others.

Some of the artists whose work will be discussed are looking to challenge the western view of the burqa as inherently oppressive. Behnaz Babadeh, an Afghan-American artist, photographed herself wearing burqas made of gummy bears, licorice, and other treats to "sweeten" the image of the garment. 

The purpose of the event is not to condemn or promote the burqa but rather to include a diverse array of voices that often get left out of arguments on both sides of the issue, said Stacey Le Melle, of the Afghan Women’s Writer Project, which organized the exhibit along with Of Note Magazine, an online journal of arts and social activism.

“Women who wear burqas are left out of conversations about their lives and what they should do with their bodies, so we think it’s special to approach it through art,” she said. “Art by these women allows for nuance that often cannot happen in political or religious writing.”

Le Melle said she hopes the show disrupts any preconceived notions attendees may walk in with.

“We’ve published many stories by Afghan writers who hate the burqa and feel like it cages them, but there are other women who feel that outsiders make too much of it,” she said. “The idea of this event is to hear from writers and artists who tell a more complicated story.”

The editors of Of Note, which picks a single topic for each issue, decided to dedicate its recent winter issue to art and narratives around the burqa in part because they felt that political debate sidelined the actual experiences of women who wear the burqa, said magazine founder Grace Aneiza Ali.

“Not just with the burqa but with anything to do with to do with women’s bodies you have men speaking for women,” she said. “We wanted to say no to that, and let women speak for women and what to do with women’s bodies.”

The Art of the Burqa, 3-5 p.m. on March 6 at Pen + Brush Gallery, 29 E. 22nd St. between Park Ave. South and Broadway in the Flatiron. Free, RSVP required.

Correction: This story was updated with the correct spelling of Stacy Parker Le Melle's name