- Fernanda Paul
- BBC News World
With the arrival of the Taliban in Afghanistan, a collage of photos has gone viral on social media.
It is a series of images that show the transformation of a Muslim mother, her daughter and a doll, from her usual clothes to being completely covered with a burqa and disappearing.
The work was created in 2010 by the Yemeni photographer Boushra Almutawakel and 11 years later, in the midst of the Kabul crisis, it has again been widely circulated under the legend “disappearance.”
Its enormous impact has even ended up surprising its own author, considered a defender of women’s rights and a pioneer in the Muslim world.
“I went from having 1,500 followers to 20,000 in two days, It’s crazy, “he tells BBC Mundo from Dubai, where he currently lives with his family.
But Boushra Almutawakel admits that he has “mixed feelings” about it.
While he is glad that his work is making an impact on the world, he believes it has been misinterpreted and used as a way to criticize Islam and the wearing of the veil (or hijab).
In this interview he clarifies what is the true message behind his work and warns that the “patriarchal misogyny” It is not only found in the Muslim and Arab world, but “everywhere.”
His photographsThe days, especially the series “Mother, daughter and doll”, have been widely shared on social networks in recent days. What is the message behind this work?
It is a comment on patriarchal misogyny. Fear, control and intolerance. What will be enough for these extremists to accept women; how many layers will be necessary? Because you feel that the only thing they will be happy with is that they are out of sight.
I come from Yemen, which is a country that has always been very conservative. However, from the 80s onwards there was the influence of Wahhabism, from Saudi Arabia, and I personally felt that it was getting too extreme.
And for me that has nothing to do with Islam. Before, the veils were colorful. Each village had its own veil. In some villages women did not even cover their faces.
I am not against hijab. If so, I would have split my series with a woman in a bikini. But where does it say that a 5-year-old girl should cover her hair?
It is as if culture is much stronger than religion. There are many wonderful things about our culture, but the misogynistic part, the extremist part, that of completely covering women, hiding them, using them as property, is not part of Islam.
But some people have used his photographs to criticize the islam in general. How do you take that?
It is definitely a misuse and a misrepresentation, because this series of “mother, daughter and doll” is part of my work as a Muslim woman, as an Arab, as a Yemeni woman wearing the hijab.
When I return home (to Yemen), I wear the hijab. I have received so much hatred, particularly from Arab women who tell me that I am against Islam and the hijab.
And that was the fear that I had of exhibiting my work in the West, because even some people on the right have used my work to show how Islamic women are being oppressed.
And my work is not about Islam, it is about extremism. It is about patriarchal misogyny, which is not only found in the Muslim and Arab world, it is everywhere.
Do you have mixed feelings about the impact of your work?
Yes. I’m happy that people are seeing my work, but I’m a bit upset because it’s like people are using my work to support a message that they have to say.
Muslims and Arabs think that I am going for the West, that I am against Islam. But they are misusing it and misrepresenting it.
And I am not speaking for Afghan women. They can speak for themselves. I believe that people should listen and not speak on their behalf.
And that’s what happens with the West. I know it is out of goodwill, but we also want to save ourselves and we have voices. The West cannot continue to speak for us.
Afghan women need to speak up. And I’m sure they will. They have voices, they are strong.
So what role should the West play in the crises that hit some countries like Afghanistan?
The West does not need to save us. And in any case, the West has destroyed us. The Taliban were created by the United States so that they could fight the Soviets.
And the Taliban left the Afghan people. Who needs them? What kind of world is this? I wish the West stayed out of our countries, including mine. They have destroyed the Middle East in every respect.
Are you worried that what is happening in Afghanistan will further increase Islamophobia in the world?
Of course. And of course it does. But Islamophobia exists with or without the Taliban, dating back to September 11, 2001.
And if the Taliban did not exist, they would look for something else to fuel this propaganda of how Islam is evil. Much of this has to do with ignorance and fear, sadly, and misunderstanding.
What did you want to provoke with the series “What if …” (And if …), which shows a man using aa burka?
He wasn’t trying to provoke anything. While I was in college in the United States, I went through a religious period and wore the hijab for a year.
I remember when it was summer I was sitting there, sweating, and I saw the young Muslim Arabs in shorts … and personally it didn’t make sense to me. So i took it off [el velo].
So there I thought: and how would this be the other way around? Let the men be the ones who had to wear the hijab. It was an unrealistic question that I wanted to translate through photographs.
I remember that I exhibited the series in an exhibition at the National Museum, in Yemen. And to my great surprise, many women loved it. And I think almost all the men hated it.
I remember having a fight with a doctor who studied in the United States. He would ask me: what are you trying to say? That men should be women? Are you questioning what God said? He took it too seriously.
“Leave us alone!”
You lived in France for several years, one of the countries that has publicly banned the wearing of the burqa. How was that experience?
It is very contradictory. His motto is equality, freedom and fraternity but the reality is something else.
Muslims are a minority, they are marginalized. And they focus on women, they are the most marginalized, the most vulnerable, it’s like a form of extremism, but in the other direction.
It seems horrible to me, even more horrible because the West has been educated in modernity, on the basis of freedom and freedom of expression. But it is not true. It just isn’t true.
And what is your opinion on the intense debate that the wearing of the veil provokes?
We are not focusing on the real problems. Women are always told what to do, wear the hijab or take it off, be slim, be young … Leave us alone!
Look what the makeup and weight industry is. The billions of dollars out there. And women undergo plastic surgery and starve to be thin. That is also a form of oppression.
Many of the women covered are doctors, politicians, writers, lawyers, or artists. And they are strong. Not because his face is covered or his body is covered over his intellect.
Some people in the West see a veiled woman and immediately assume that she is oppressed and needs to be saved. But not all hijab-wearing women are oppressed. And I am not speaking for Afghan women, but for Yemenis and myself.
Are you worried about the violation of women’s rights with the arrival of the Taliban in Afghanistan?
Yes of course, I am afraid like everyone else. The things that have happened in the past, women who are shot, taken out of school, put out of work, killed, are very horrible.
Any form of fundamentalism, of extremism, where there is no room for flexibility, for discussion, for dialogue, is very terrifying.
However, I think we are living a different time, because now we have cell phones and social media and they can’t get away with it like they used to.
I also believe that this time many women will fight more. They have had 20 years of a better life, and they are strong, ambitious and capable. I have faith in them.
Now you can receive notifications from BBC Mundo. Download the new version of our app and activate them so you don’t miss out on our best content.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.