The Islamic Veil: Can We Know the Other?

An Experiential Program Exploring Cultural Difference


Kendall Dudley, 2010 Mass Cultural Council award winner, will present one of a series of public art events at the Cambridge Center focused on how we see the other. As the global signs and symbols of cultural difference become more visible and compelling, we are in danger of believing that what we “see” approximates some kind of accurate “reality.” In this program, the Iraqi abaya, the Iranian chador and the Afghan burqa provide the context for exploring the variety of ways we may accurately and inaccurately perceive “difference” in general and in specific, the Islamic veil. A potent, complex garment, the veil provides a window into the nature of perception, especially when our perceptual lens is colored by political, economic, social and religious differences.

These garments have been swept up into the politics of feminism, multiculturalism, and globalization. In such a context, the veiling of women can even serve as partial justification for aggressive acts directed at “liberating” women so that they can be “free” to express themselves. By contrast, looking at the veil as a complex garmentimbued with rich social, economic, religious, and psychological power, we can understand some of our own responses to it and look more thoughtfully at those of others. To help bridge the cultural distance, interested participants will be invited to try on a burqa or abaya, look at themselves in mirrors, and note the differences between their anticipated responses to wearing it and their actual responses. Audience members are invited to react too and suggest ways to better understand the “other,” especially when the other is separated by clothing, culture, language, and world view. While this experiential presentation/lecture will help to deepen understanding for anyone, it is especially useful for teachers, negotiators, artists, and concerned citizens.

Kendall Dudley has a MA in Middle East studies from Columbia, worked in Iran and studied Islamic art and architecture. This presentation is also funded by the Boston Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Association and the Rica Charitable Trust.

The Islamic Veil: Can We Know the Other? $10, Wednesday, March 10, 6:00 pm, 56 Brattle Street.   Purchase tickets on our website.

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