Lecture will explore ‘the veil’ in contemporary art

Social and cultural anthropologist Zulfikar Hirji examines the recent proliferation of “the veil” in contemporary art, in a talk Jan. 25 at the Textile Museum of Canada.

In “Art of the Veil: Commoditization of a Cultural Practice?”, Hirji looks at how veils worn by some Muslim women have become the subjects of contemporary artistic production and art exhibitions.

An image by Grace Ndiritu from the Veiled exhibit at the Textile Museum“The veil has become ubiquitous over the last few years in art produced by Muslims and non-Muslims,” says Hirji, an anthropology professor at York.

An image by Grace Ndiritu from the Veiled exhibit at the Textile Museum

Hirji’s lecture, offered in partnership with York University, is one of several events relating to the museum’s current exhibition, Veiled: Andrew McPhail, Grace Ndiritu & Tazeen Qayyum.

“I’m trying to figure out the allure of what’s become an icon in contemporary art,” says Hirji. How has the veil moved from being a symbol of patriarchy and oppression in Shirin Neshat’s Women of Allah (1997)to being a symbol of resistance in Shepard Fairey’s Muslim Women (2005), for instance, he asks.

“Different artists have different intentions,” says Hirji. “How are these images of the veil being registered by different publics? And how ultimately do they affect the images of Muslims in contemporary society?”

“Is the veil in some art and exhibitions part of a landscape of ocular violence directed at Muslims?” asks Hirji. Does it signal the re-orientalization of Muslim women and men?

Hirji’s lecture starts at 6:30pm, Jan. 25 at the Textile Museum of Canada. He is the author of Diversity and Pluralism in Islam: Historical and Contemporary Discourses amongst Muslims (2010). (See YFile Dec. 20, 2010.)

At York, he teaches senior undergraduate and graduate courses on Islam and Muslim societies, visual anthropology and the anthropology of the senses.