For women’s eyes

I came across an intriguing article today, with the provocative title: “Muslim exhibition for women’s eyes only”. Here is the story:

A Lower Hutt art gallery is fielding complaints following the announcement that men will be banned from viewing an upcoming exhibition that shows Muslim women without veils.

The Dowse Art Museum is preparing to host the world premiere of a video display entitled Cinderazahd: For Your Eyes Only, that shows female friends and relatives preparing for a cousin’s wedding without wearing their hijabs, or veils.

In accordance with the wishes of the artist, Qatari writer and film-maker Sophia Al-Maria, men will not be allowed to view the work, prompting outrage from locals.

Lower Hutt resident Paul Young is calling for support for his campaign against the work, which he says is “inflammatory and provocative”, and discriminates against half the population.

“As a ratepayer, I find it a shocking situation. I see this sort of thing as being the thin end of the wedge,” Young said. “Steps have to be taken to make sure that this doesn’t go ahead in its current format.”

Young intends to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission over the exhibit this week. He also questioned how the ban would be enforced, and said the Dowse was “naive” for expecting patrons to abide by the ban.

“It’s fraught with all sort of difficulties, because I know guys will try, just to upset the applecart. I said to my wife, it might be an opportunity for me to put my high heels and makeup on – though I’d much rather see it de-escalated at this stage.”

Dowse director Cam McCracken said the museum had received “one or two” complaints about the exhibit since the news broke yesterday, which was “to be expected”. He said he would respond to these using the museum’s standard protocol. “I think the Dowse is doing its job if it is asking questions of the community. That’s what I see our role as being.

“We present a very diverse range of programmes – not everything is provocative, but sometimes it is, and this is one of those times.”

In short, the exhibition does challenge society’s norms by offering them a different perspective: a view into a world of gender segregation and modesty. The exhibition, however, does not impose a lifestyle or belief on the community or the staff – it merely respects the participants’ wishes that are rooted in religious beliefs and traditions.
I’m a Muslim woman and I would love to share my traditions with other communities (specifically wedding ceremonies) but I am faced with many limitations if I were to try to film women in Kuwait. The vast majority of women would not participate in projects knowing that men might see them unveiled. They would not participate unless assured that it was for women’s eyes only. I realize this limits my audience abroad to “half the population” as Young puts it, but it would still reach some people who would not otherwise have a chance to see these ceremonies.

As Director Cam McCracken says, “…the Dowse is doing its job if it is asking questions of the community.” Some concepts will be out of our comfort zone – specifically at an art gallery. Instead of completely rejecting the notion of a female-only exhibition,  people like Young should realize that this piece of information alone is valuable insight into another culture. Tolerance, like patience, is a virtue and this exhibition is just an experience, not a law that will affect people’s life. This exhibition is a window to another world. The curtains will soon be drawn shut and the local women of Lower Hutt will no longer be permitted to peer at another culture.  I don’t see anything wrong with this exhibition, do you?

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