Men will be banned from Muslim exhibit

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 08:34 25/08/2012
Muslim woman
A woman wears a hijab - headwear chosen by woman in many Islamic nations.

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Men will be banned from watching a video display coming to a Lower Hutt art gallery that shows Muslim women without veils.

The Dowse Art Museum is preparing to host the world premiere of the art installation - despite advice from the Human Rights Commission that not letting men inside could be seen as sexual discrimination.

The work, by Qatari writer and film-maker Sophia Al-Maria, is called Cinderazahd: For Your Eyes Only. It features female family members and friends getting ready for a cousin's wedding, without wearing hijabs, or veils.

Dowse director Cam McCracken confirmed Al-Maria's work would be off-limits to men, in keeping with the artist's wishes. "I haven't seen the work, and I won't.

"I've bought into the fact that we take this work on the proviso that no men see it. We respect the artist and the privacy of the women who are portrayed."

Its premiere will be part of a wider exhibition at the Dowse from September 8, called In Spite of Ourselves: Approaching Documentary. Seventeen artists were featured in the exhibition.

In a statement, Al-Maria said images from the film were from exclusively female zones inside a home. "They, like this work, should be treated as privileged and private, for women's eyes only.”

Mr McCracken said the work was likely to be screened in a small curtained-off area behind the gallery's reception, not usually open to the public. Only one person would be able to see it at a time, for "an individual singular experience".

"We've discussed removing any confrontation. It's not like we'll have security guards stopping people from going inside the gallery."

He was confident reception staff would be able to handle the situation. "I'll gladly discuss any issues anyone might have."

In an internal memo to Hutt City councillors, Mr McCracken raised the exhibition as a potential issue.

"We are aware that this may be subject to a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, as we are preventing access to a sector of the public based on gender. We have had interesting discussions with the Human Rights Commission and sought extensive legal advice via HCC legal counsel to ensure we . . . are comfortable with the HRC process should a complaint materialise."

A commission spokeswoman said it had advised the Dowse that there was "an arguable case" for sexual discrimination under the Human Rights Act. A complainant would need to show he or she had suffered detriment that was "more than trivial".

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"Possible arrangements such as a private exhibition of the work or showing the material in a separate area of the exhibition were discussed."

Mr McCracken said there was "enough grey area" to proceed. It was "absolutely not" a publicity stunt. "We think it's a really important work and it raises some interesting issues."

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said it was up to the gallery to decide whether to display the installation. "They have decided they will go ahead. If there is a complaint we will explore it."

Small boys could accompany their mothers inside the installation, Mr McCracken said. The wider exhibition cost about $6000 to bring to the Dowse.

Islamic Women's Council spokeswoman Rehanna Ali was looking forward to seeing Al-Maria's work. "We hope it promotes some interesting discussion, rather than reactive controversy."

The Dowse and Petone Settlers Museum are operated by Hutt City Council, from an annual budget of $2.8m.

KIWI IMAN: VEIL PROTECTS WOMEN

It would be inappropriate for a male stranger to see a Muslim woman without her veil, even in her own home, a cleric says.

New Zealand chairman and Wellington Islamic Centre imam Mohammad Amir said Muslim women wore veils  to protect themselves and hide their beauty.

"A woman should only share her beauty with her husband," he said.

Women had a range of veils to choose from, with a "minimum requirement" allowing a woman to expose her face and hands, to a "maximum requirement" in which she was covered from head to toe.

Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand regional representative Rehanna Ali said a veil or headscarf moved the focus away from a woman’s appearance to her inner beauty. "It says 'I don’t wish to be judged by my physical appearance, but rather by my intellect, my character, my personality'."

Cultural issues were more likely as the Muslim population grew, she said.

"I think that as a country. . .  we are quite mature now in recognition of the diversity [of the] community that we have here."

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- The Dominion Post

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