Last month I included a short, critical blurb on the image “An Emerging Mystery” as a part of my weekly roundup. But I felt there was more to be said about using the niqab-as-art — including pointing out truly positive and evocative examples — so I wrote up a longer piece for MMW.
Like a horrific scene from a 1960s monster movie: unbeknownst to scientists on a fossil-hunting expedition along the mist-shrouded Arabian Gulf, a prehistoric creature of gargantuan proportions slowly emerges from the water to the piercing screams of… oh no, wait. It’s not the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or even the Loch Ness monster – it’s just a woman in niqab taking a dip off the cost of Dubai for a staged photoshoot.
“An Emerging Mystery” is the creation of Sebastian Farmborough, a budding photographer who spends his time learning new languages, traveling the Middle East and apparently sexualizing Muslim women when he’s not working on his photography skills. While this is a lovely photo, I can’t get past the photographer’s motivation for creating the piece, which he’s outlined clearly for the Express Tribune (with emphasis added):
“The image is based on one of my very first experiences in Saudi Arabia. With the naked beaches of Barcelona a not too distant memory, I headed down to the Arabian Gulf for a dip. There, I became mystified by something black and obscure out at sea. It looked like a huge jellyfish. Then, as it approached closer, I realised that it was in fact a woman.”
Well, I’m certainly glad he figured that one out before she stung him with her venomous tentacles, forcing him to run around the beach begging Saudis to pee on him.
Watching a woman swim fully covered was such an “intense experience” for Farmborough that he just had to “capture it” for himself. Now, I can understand that after the naked beaches of Barcelona, Saudi Arabia might be a little overwhelming, especially if you’re only evaluating women on the basis of their nakedness or lack thereof — but it’s a special gem that goes the extra step to sexualize a cultural and religious context experienced in one Muslim country, use it to represent all Muslim women, and call it art.