When I invited artist Marie Rim to Middlebury College, I didn't know what to expect. Her project "Burka Fittings Across America" asks randomly selected people to try on a burka for a few minutes and to look at themselves in a full-length mirror. Her artistic goal is to explore "otherness, embodiment and empathy, as well as the meanings Americans associate with the burka".
Some people are outraged that she is appropriating the burka for her own purposes. Others worry that it will reinforce Islamophobia. If you are optimistic, like Rim, you hope it will undermine people's preconceived notions and generate greater cross-cultural understanding. This is not your grandfather's art project, blandly hanging on a gallery or museum wall.
Marie Rim grew up on the East Coast and is a painter by training. While based in Los Angeles, she began to work with wedding dresses, redirecting her art in a tactile and interactive direction. She invited passersby to don garments she had made from second-hand wedding dresses and to examine themselves in the mirror. It was playful and good-natured. Everybody walked away happy.