Iranian-born photographer Sara Shamsavari uses her camera lens to highlight the individuality and ethnic diversity of veiled women, at an exhibition portraying young Muslim hijab-wearers at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
The event is part of the Women of the World Festival, an international festival which celebrates women’s talents and activism across the world and highlights the challenges they face.
Shamsavari said her exhibition aimed to deliver a positive image of the Islamic veil.
“When I would see these group of people particularly, I’d see people who are young, female and also visibly Muslims, and for all of these reasons, I would assume that they would encounter a lot of prejudice and a lot of misunderstanding, you know just because we live in a judgmental society, and I wanted to show how despite all of that they shine so beautifully,” she said.
The Muslim veil is intended to cover parts of the body that men find sexually attractive, and can include garments that cover the hair, ears and throat and sometimes even the face.
But Shamsavari says that none of this hides the beauty of the hijab, with pieces from her collection showing women covered in colorful headscarves decorated with pins, gold accessories and shiny chains.
She said she wanted to challenge common perceptions of veiled women.
“Often when we see a picture of a woman in a veil in the news, the images that we see more often are connected to some form of war or something political or something negative or something painful and there is like a whole other reality that I guess I see and part of being the artist is to be able to see things differently,” she said.
The images displayed at the exhibition were among 100 other photographs taken by the artist in different parts of London.
Shamsavari said there was more freedom in London towards people's individuality but that there was also a negative association that people from minority groups had to deal with.
“There has been more of a negative feeling towards I guess, Islam in the West, because of the previous events that happened. I find that the young people growing up in that are suffering but the main gist of the work in general is to love one another and to be non-judgmental and to be accepting,” she said.
“I think that's the main gist and I also think that displacement is happening, is becoming more common place all over the world and because of that it makes it even more important that we learn about each other and that we understand each other and accept each other,” she added.
Visitors to the exhibition said they were impressed.
“I think the exhibition is fantastic because Sara depicts Muslim women wearing the hijab but in their own individual ways, so I actually think that it represents where we are now in the world in terms of modern times because everybody is an individual irrespective of what religion they are,” said designer and marketing director Nneka Onyenakala.
Another visitor, Rayan Cherri, said the images proved that women who wore veils could also be elegant and fashionable.
“It shows something new about the hijab and it encourages those who don’t wear it to consider it, and it also shows the West that there are beautiful hijab styles and that a women can practice her religion and at the same time preserve her happy and elegant look,” said the university student.
International Women's Day started in 1911, when more than a million women and men took part in protests calling for the right for women to vote, hold public office and to be able to work.