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No veil is required

Peter Breedveld

Womensrightbythebook (163k image)
Women’s rights by the book by Ameer Normandi

Last fall an exhibition of work by the Iranian-American photographer Ameer Normandi on the campus of Harper College, Illinois was closed down after protests by Muslim students. The students found the photographs of partly nude women clad in burqas and hejabs offensive. Frontaal Naakt interviewed Normandi by e-mail.

Could you tell us something about yourself? You’ve fled from Iran at the time of the revolution in 1979. Why?

I left Iran after casting my no-vote for the “Islamic Republic” following loss of hope for a democratic system governing Iran.

You claim you are a descendant of the prophet Mohammad. Are you serious? How do you know?

Yes, I am a descendant of the prophet Mohammad, per our genealogy recording by the elders of my family and also by the official registration of my great-grandfather’s entombment location as a sacred site in Gilan region.

Does it give you a special status in the Muslim world?

Yes, I believe I do have far more legitimate reasons to be concerned about the progression of civilised Islam than sadistic and masochist individuals such as Osama Bin Laden who promote a savage form of Islam. Humanity in the twenty-first century does not need the same guidelines which were meant to gradually bring the pagan Arabs out of the dark ages.

The photos in your exhibition No veil is required show women in burqas and hijabs dangling lingerie and revealing parts of their nude bodies. What does it mean?

Defying taboos; demand for free agency, respect for individuality and challenging backward thinking.

In interviews you say that you consider hejabs, burqas and suchlike as symbols of oppression. In Holland and the rest of Europe many young Muslim women are starting to wear veils. They insist it’s out of their own volition and indeed, often their parents are none too happy with it. They are also very vocal about it, giving the impression that it’s more of a political gesture than an act of submission. What do you think about that?

The act of defying authorities as a political statement in a democratic society is protected constitutionally. One can not be surprised to see opposition to policies in Europe but the paradox is that the same right is denied to those women in their ancestral homelands.
We need to encourage dissension, but let’s not forget strategic submission is still submission. Islamic Hejab is gender specific compulsory dress code not an option.

Normandi8 (239k image)
No veil is required by Ameer Normandi

There are many people pleading for a prohibition of veils in public spaces like universities and courtrooms and the like. What do you think of that?

I agree. Secular public spaces are not to become a competing ground for faith franchises. Personal devotion to a divine power dose not require propaganda.

Last autumn the exhibition was shown at Harper College in Illinois. A group of Muslim students immediately took offence. Where you prepared for something like that?

No, I thought I would be invited to a debate – as one can expect from a teaching institution – to create dialogue and further exchange of ideas.

After the students’ complaints Harper College took the exhibition down. What was your immediate response to that?

I was in total shock, initially I was lead to believe by Richard Johnson (Harper’s international studies coordinator, responsible for taking the exhibition down – PB) that there was a possible campus riot in the making when I suggested to him to notify the police and other authorities. An hour later he called me back to inform me of the removal of the exhibit from the public view due to extreme pressure from his superiors. Then I requested an official letter of explanation for removal of my exhibit.

Johnson says he was disappointed by the lack of intellectual content. How do you react to that?

In spite of his academic background and management position Richard Johnson may have been under excessive strain or other burdens to be making so many contradictory statements. I am advocating women’s rights in Islamic societies with my work and do not fear loosing my job over the

You installed another exhibition at Harper’s College earlier that year. It was an exhibition of photographs portraying the daily life of women in Iran, made by Iranian photographers and smuggled out of Iran. Apparently Johnson, who commissioned both exhibitions, was so pleased that he asked you to do another. Did you completely leave him in the dark about what No veil is required would be about’?

The same exhibition opened in another gallery about three weeks earlier to it’s scheduled opening at the Harper College and both Pollock and Johnson were invited to view the exhibit in it’s entirety.

Don’t you think that, even without the Muslim protests, people would have taken offence because of the nudity anyhow? I mean, this being the very prudish United States.

So many of the comments about the closer of my exhibit had a simple reply: since when not be offended is a right and a cause for censorship?

No veil is required not just contained photographs, but also other artforms. For instance, there is an instalment showing Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics with blood on their hands playing cards. I take it you have little love for the three monotheistic religions?

I support the right of individuals to practice any faith and discipline, but strongly protest power hungry clerics (so-called holy men) who betray their followers.

Another instalment showed a Christian minister, an armed Arab and a horned Jew. What is that about?

This must be from Deanna Isaac’s article in the Chicago Readers. There is a gross mix-up in that review. The horned image is in fact the devil himself in a mullahs attire and it’s part of a four panel image, the armed Arab is part of another image.

After the exhibition was taken down and all the publicity around that, was it harder or easier for you to have your work exhibited?

It was mixed. It’s continuing in an unusual pattern.

There are bloggers all over the world who are now spreading the word about your work. Is this something you started yourself? Do you see the Internet as a way to dodge censors and puritans?

Yes to both parts of the question. I am hoping that with the coverage of my campaign by bloggers I’ll be heard in many corners of our planet.

I assume you are known in the Iranian-American community of where you live. How are the reactions to your work among Iranian-Americans?

One would think that all the Iranians in the west would be open to modernity; it is not the case in this area. Many conservatives hide under modern attire but stay shackled to old ways internally. This group is rooted in the past but somehow suspended in the present era. On the other side of the scale are many ultramodern progressive thinkers that give you all the energy you could ask for.

Algemeen, 20.08.2006 @ 05:51


6 Reacties

op 21 08 2006 at 15:58 schreef Michiel Mans:

Dear Ameer,

You said:
-"Yes, I am a descendant of the prophet Mohammad, per our genealogy recording by the elders of my family and also by the official registration of my great-grandfather’s entombment location as a sacred site in Gilan region."-

The recordings of the elders have great scientific value as little is really known about Mohammed. It’s mostly, if not all, written ‘records’ about him, made long after he died. That makes the koran questionable as an authentic work. It also makes any claim of descendancy rather doubtful. But who knows what mind blowing ancient papers your elders have in their possession.

It is sad to see what happened with your exhibition. Same here. In Holland sometimes a whisper of protest from the Muslim community is sufficient to stop theatre plays or remove monuments. Ridiculous but true.

op 21 08 2006 at 20:50 schreef carmo da rosa:

The ancient king of Morocco (Hassan VI) is also said to be a descendant, in direct line, of the prophet Mohammed. And when he was on the television, talking about the prophet to his subjects, he seemed to use the very familiar expression: ‘As my grandfather used to say….’.

Don’t you?

op 21 08 2006 at 21:23 schreef G.Shumway:

Wish my great great grandfather could live to see this…

op 22 08 2006 at 12:47 schreef babs:

Met een beetje pech ben ik ook een directe nakomeling de profeet. Zijn nakomelingen hadden nogal veel kinderen begrijp ik en ze veroverden nogal wat gebieden, tot in Zuid Spanje. Bij veroveren wordt geneukt, dus veel Spanjaarden waren directe afstammelingen van de profeet. De Spanjaarden hadden vervolgens 40 generaties om de genen van de profeet door heel het land te verspreiden, lange genoeg om een groot deel van de Spanjaarden die in Nederland oorlog kwamen voeren tot directe afstammelingen te maken. Half Nederland heeft na nog eens 20 generaties wel wat Spaans bloed en heeft dus een gerede kans directe afstammeling van de profeet te zijn. Kom je uit Brabant of Limburg, dan is die kans nog groter. Gefeliciteerd ermee allemaal!

op 22 08 2006 at 14:50 schreef Sabaroth:

Ja zo gaat de lol er wel vanaf ja.

op 22 08 2006 at 21:24 schreef Sabian:

Dear Ameer,

I just saw more of your work. Awesome stuff, and great links too others around the globe too!

In Holland you’d be having at least 5 off these 150,- bucks an hour gorillas just to make it trough the day. Glad to see you still don’t need that, hope it’s stays that way.

Keep safe and stay well!

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