Selina Roman
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The Burqa Project
The burqa covers a woman head to toe, with only a mesh screen for her to look out on the world. The world, however, does not see her face. For some she has just been reduced to a voluminous object that floats about the landscape. To others, her anonymity has transgressed into omniscient power. Anyone could be under that garment. Is she smiling at us from within her fabric cocoon? Is she mocking us? Sneering? We may never know. We do not know who she is or where she came from. All we know is that she is right here in front of us, occupying the space. She can leave at any second and disappear as fast as she came.

With the Afghan burqa, I take a loaded, iconic object and upend its literal meaning and challenge the viewer to contemplate the idea that there is power in anonymity and that an unreturned gaze is just as powerful, if not more so, than one that is exchanged. Using something with which I have no personal history allows me to explore the burqa’s other attributes such as protection and anonymity. Although the burqa is shrouded in religious significance, I take it out of this context in an attempt to explore these other attributes. Instead of showcasing it as an oppressive garment, the burqa becomes a voluminous, billowing object.

I do not want to take a position of being either for or against the burqa. I am not interested in taking a stand and summoning my audience to follow along, torches alight. Instead, just as I did in my reporting, I want to offer my audience a different view point – a new way of seeing – that will let them contemplate the work and arrive at their own conclusions. As a practice, it is much more freeing to work in this manner rather than feeling like I must constantly defend an ideology that I have created. Doing so would limit the interpretation of the work, as well as my ability to take the work in other directions.

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