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Photo Exhibit of Muslim Women Causes Stir
Some Students Offended by Artist's Work

ABC News
November 08, 2005

By Ben Bradley
Assignment Reporter

A photo exhibit of Muslim women that was displayed at Harper College in suburban Palatine is causing quite a controversy. Some Muslim students complain that the pictures portray them as prisoners of their own religion.

Many Muslim students say since the display went up two weeks ago they have been getting a lot of strange looks and odd questions from their classmates. The professional photographer who took the pictures says, in some ways, that's the point.

The exhibition begins as an artistic display of Muslim women in traditional dress but quickly evolves into a political statement. A woman covered from the waist up in a burqa but wearing nothing from the waist down. Another portrays a face imprisoned by the hajad, or scarf many Muslim women wear to cover their heads.

"I'm trying to open the window from the Islam of narrow view to a wider view," said the artist, Amir Normandi.

Normandi, himself a Muslim, is telling students his exhibit at Harper College was intended to draw attention to strict rules in some Middle Eastern countries that prevent women from being seen in anything but the strictest of cover in public. The display was dismantled by Harper College administrators after some Muslim students said they found it offensive.

"We're walking around and people are looking at us suspiciously, asking 'Is this what Muslim women are like? Are they oppressed?' That directly offends us," said Sada Ahmed, Harper College student.

"The statement was that people or women wearing the hajad, or veil, are repressed. These women that are walking around campus don't feel that way. They feel liberated wearing the veil," said Ahmed Rehab, Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The point, according to artist Normandi, is that these women have the option of what to wear, where to go, and how to be seen. Many others do not.

"The attention it's getting is positive and I am positive people will think with their own conscious. They can't ignore human rights," said Normandi.

A spokesperson for Harper College says the photographer misled the college about the graphic content of some of the art. That, not censorship, is what caused the school to take the exhibit down.

copyright © 2005, ABC News

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