A symbol of repression or just one more way of looking good? Artists Saks Afridi and Qinza Najm pick the latter
You can't talk about the hijab in the Western world without somebody butting in to yell about how it's repressive or anti-feminist. But Pakistani-American artists Qinza Najm and Saks Afridi are putting a whole new spin on how people look at the veil – by inviting women to take selfies of themselves in full hijab or niqab and instagramming them under the hashtag #DamnILookGood.
The New York-based pair debuted the project in Brooklyn at the Dumbo Arts Festival in September and were adamant that the hijab is often misrepresented by cultures that don't understand it – chiefly, that many people don't grasp that wearing the veil can be an active expression of choice, personal style and beauty.
"A woman wearing full hijab and taking selfies of herself may to some people seem like a pointless exercise, but it isn't," Najm explains in a video about the project. "A selfie is more than just a picture. It's a product of a moment when one is feeling beautiful and confident."
"In the Muslim world, gender inequality has many reasons besides religion, like poverty and authoritarianism," Afridi told us. "And each Muslim country has its own set of gender issues. Our main point was that it takes a brave woman to wear hijab or niqab in the west. So let's be more tolerant of it."
#DamnILookGood was born when Najm was invited to participate in the South Asian Women's Creative Collective (SAWCC) exhibition at festival. Afridi and Najm proposed the DamnILookGood project to SAWCC, who were at first a little nervous but decided to commission it.
Najm had not worn the hijab before and wore it as for a week in preparation. Two days in, she was accosted by two men in separate incidents who berated her, shouting "Go home you fucking Muslim!" She ran home and shook for hours. After that, Afridi and Najm knew something had to be done.
Afridi says that people jump to conclusions about why women choose to wear the veil, particularly in America. "Sweeping generalizations should be avoided at all costs," he says. "It’s important to take the time to speak to women who veil and engage with them before playing Mister fix-it."
Both Afridi and Najm say that most of the women who participated in #DamnILookGood had never worn the veil before. "Hundreds of people came and we had overwhelmingly positive responses," Afridi told us. "Some people even cried. The majority of people told us we changed their perception of the veil."
"We’re always clear that we are not experts in Islam or experienced hijabis, but Islamophobia is rampant now and this was why we wanted to start a conversation around tolerance."
Watch a video on #DamnILookGood below: