Mental Health Art Exhibition
Unveiled - religious and institutional oppression
Aamira held her niqab in a firm grip; the heaviness of the fabric felt familiar to her; it had sat on her skin for most of her life. Amira, with hesitation, let it slide on the floor, keeping the two fingers attached to the heavy and suffocating fabric. She dragged it a bit more, still hesitant and unsure. She looked back, her heart beating faster—too scared her courage might fade. She then closed her eyes and let the garment go. With her chin up, she turned toward the path she was meant to take.
Aamira, the imperial inhabitant, smirked as she walked, and as she edged the walls of her citadel, her smirk turned into a heartfelt smile. Her abundance was now apparent and rattled the onlookers. Aamira felt the other women’s eyes on her, judging and criticizing her, but she also sensed their envy.
Aesira wanted to do what Aamira had just done, but she lacked courage. She knew she was not the brave, powerful, and courageous fighter she was born to be; she didn’t know how to live up to her name.
Amal looked at Aamira puzzled; she couldn’t understand what Aamira was searching for; her hopes and aspirations had left Amal’s soul a long time ago. She wasn’t creative enough to visualize a life outside her religion and culture; she didn’t dare to imagine something that would give her pleasure or an abundant life of hopes and aspirations. Left without dreams, she, too, struggled to live up to her name.
Amina would feel too bare without her niqab; she felt honest and faithful with it; without it, she didn’t know who she was, and that felt uncomfortable. The false perception of being protected and secure under the garment couldn’t even allow Amina to contemplate a life without that cover.
For Ameen it would mean betrayal if she didn’t live up to her name; loyalty and trust were her mission in life. You don’t change your faith, you don’t leave your family, and you certainly don’t do what you desire.
Aliya, the exalted, revered, and noble girl whose transcendence glowed wherever she went, moved people because she was daring. She wanted to challenge the status quo—she yearned for it, but the consequences would come at a high price; better play it safe and don’t challenge anything, as doing so will incur judgment and exclusion from the community and your family. She would have to wear the brand of Ex communicated, Expelled, Dissociated, Disfellowshipped, Repudiated, Cut-off, and Castaway; the scariest and most humiliating position you would want to put yourself in. So, she stayed put, dreaming of life on the other side of the status quo.
Adn didn’t even question who, what and why she was a believer. She would never visit her eternal place of bliss because her place of residence lay within her unquestioned faith. Not asking is easier; what you might discover will open too many doors that lead to the unknown, maybe even that eternal place of bliss so frowned upon.
Aamira observed the people around the world. She saw many versions of these women among more minor cults, institutions, and factions; there were many clones around—a propagation of individuals designed to follow blindly without questioning. They had been stripped of their ability to think and reason for themselves, handing over their power to some charismatic person who declared to be a healer, leader, and a solution to all problems.
These disempowering individuals come in all forms and shapes. Some charismatic, some super confident, some with suits and ties resembling corrupt politicians, oppressive CEOs, and ruthless leaders. Some with holy head coverings use fear to empower themselves, and then there are those at the extreme end which simply don’t give people a choice.
But what if they had a choice? Veils, hijabs, burqas, white head coverings, and other garments considered decent, modest, and respectable are to be worn by those worthy of wearing them and by those willing to wear them. Aamira, chose not to take the road of least resistance by wearing one, a road that would have led to a restrictive, constrictive, suffocating, and unproductive life because there, creative death would await her. No shadows, nuances, or colours could be seen in that darkness.
Instead, she exerted her faith—the complete trust and confidence in herself—as she slipped on the turquoise colours of the ocean and sky, hopeful and confident that life on the other side of the status quo would finally free her.
I dedicate this painting and story to myself and those who relate to it.
I am neither Muslim nor Islamic, nor have I worn a physical fabric covering. The mention of the niqab in this story is purely for creative purposes, and I often write in metaphors. I’m neither for nor against it and respect those that feel comfortable with it, as I, too, had become accustomed to the disempowering western religious symbolic covering I was made to wear. For some, a covering is not disempowering, that is certainly the case if they choose to wear it; it can be a familiar and comforting thing to have on your skin, and it keeps alive a wonderful tradition.
As a victim of religious oppression, I can only say that if the covering that sits on your skin, whether symbolic, literal, religious, or not, doesn’t feel right, and it is safe to do so, take it off and walk away…better still run!
Running away from a deadly cult or oppressive religion can be a reality in our western culture, but unfortunately, in the middle east or communist countries, that just isn’t an option for many women.
The hope of being empowered and courageous has been taken away from them and substituted, by blind faith, because that is all they have left to cling onto. Many will never have Aamira’s happy ending, many don’t even dare to dream of it, as dreams also have been taken away.
When a piece of fabric disempowers a woman to death
The women’s revolution in Iran September 2022. Thousands removed their mandatory hijab following the death of Mahsa Amini, just 22, who died in custody after her arrest by the Iranian morality police. She fell into a coma and was declared brain dead.
Mahsa Amini was arrested by those who dictate to which extent an action is right or wrong.
The morality police arrested her because she didn’t wear her hijab correctly.