The Washington Post

Photo of Muslim woman holding bra sparks free expression controversy

When Canadian art student Sooraya Graham took a photo of a woman in full Islamic dress folding her laundry and holding up a colorful bra, she felt that it humanized the veiled woman.

File photo of a colorful bra. Does simply showing an anonymous Muslim woman holding a bra constitute religious insensitivity?

A faculty member did not agree, going so far as to tear down the image from the wall in an exhibition of student work. The artist now is embroiled in a controversy about religion and free speech.

“You often see the stereotype of the veiled woman being oppressed. We all wear the same undergarments, do laundry, go shopping. I was leaving it open-ended for others to interpret the photo in their own way,” said Graham to the Vancouver Sun.

Graham’s school, Thompson Rivers University, said that the institution stands behind her work, and that the woman who tore down the poster was acting on behalf of other Muslim students, and not in her official capacity for the school. The photograph was damaged, but it has since been returned to the exhibition. The faculty member apologized to Graham after university officials spoke with her about her actions.

See the photo in this CBC news report:

In November, a similar contoversy was sparked in Egypt when art student Aliaa Elmahdy exhibited nude photos of herself.

Graham, who grew up in Canada and wears a niqab herself, says that both she and her objectors have the right to free expression.

“I will fight for your right to argue with me on any topic,” she said to the Vancouver Sun. “That’s one of the reasons I love Canada.”

Maura Judkis covers culture, food, and the arts for the Weekend section and Going Out Guide.


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