In both Muslim and Western societies the veil worn by Muslim women has long aroused deep passions, misunderstandings and plenty of heated debates. To many non-Muslims, the veil often connotes repression against women, foreignness, religion, mystery—even sexuality. Depending on the woman, the family, the place and the time—it can embody all, any, or none of these things. But discussion of the veil rarely places emphasis on the characters and emotions of the women who actually wear them.
In her ongoing body of work, The Veil, photographer and artist Laura El-Tantawy strives to do just that. El-Tantawy grew up in Egypt, as part of a moderate Muslim family where most of the women wore veils. El-Tantawy chooses not to wear a headscarf, but she sees an overlooked beauty in the piece of fabric that has been so central to images of her family and her society. Seeing herself as a citizen of both East and West, El-Tantawy believes there is a widespread misconception in western society about the Muslim veil.
Of her work, El-Tantawy says “Veils are beautiful and elegant—Colorful, vibrant, sheer fabrics that are all about femininity and beauty. I started this work with the intention of showing the veil as something that brings women of different traditions together rather than divides them. It’s about showing similarities rather than differences, which is all we ever hear about, and it’s about showing what has become a symbolically repressive practice really isn’t repressive after all, but liberating, feminine, beautiful and grounded in tradition rather than religion.”
Laura El-Tantawy is an Egyptian photojournalist based in London. To see more of her work, click here.