The veil as a tool of expression in the work of Arab women artists, 2000 to 2019

  • Eiman Alrashaidi

Student thesis: Phd


For a long time, the veil has been a signifier of great contention in the cultural encounters between the West and the Muslim world. A great deal of research has been conducted on its meanings as it is received in (predominantly Western) contexts where the veil is interpreted as a marker of exoticism and difference. However, there remains a scarcity of research considering the matter from the other direction – that is, in terms of what the veil means to Muslim women living in, or with connections to, Islamicate countries. To address this gap, this study considers representations of the veil and veiling in works by contemporary female Muslim artists from, or with connections to, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, in the medium of photography. The artists whose work is considered in detail are Zineb Sedira, Lalla Essaydi, Shadi Ghadirian, Shirin Neshat, Newsha Tavakolian, Manal Al-Dowayan, Mona Hatoum, and the team of Farhad Moshiri and Shirin Aliabadi. Specifically, the representations considered are those in which the veil is mobilised as a specific thematic or semiotic resource. I do not consider documentary images of the veil, but rather images in which the meaning of the veil is explored, negotiated and contested in an explicit and self-conscious way. This enables the consideration of the veil as an open-ended, developing cultural signifier, in contrast to the static, ahistorical interpretation often foisted on it. As the discussions provided in this study demonstrate, the veil and the practice of veiling are used in a range of fascinating ways in contemporary art by Muslim women from the MENA region, which demonstrate the dense and vital semiotic function of the phenomena in the contexts under consideration. By exploring these, this thesis hopes to shed some much-needed light on these cultural dynamics, and in this way to promote better intercultural insight and understanding.
Date of Award1 Aug 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorDavid Lomas (Supervisor) & Cordelia Warr (Supervisor)

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