The veil is the most visible icon of contemporary Islam, says the producer of an exhibition featuring works by artists from North America, the Middle East and Europe. "If you see a veil, you automatically think about Islam," said Andreas Stadler, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum, which hosted The Seen and the Hidden: [Dis]covering the Veil. The exhibition was part of Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas, a 10-day festival in New York City celebrating Islamic culture.
For some artists, including Adriana Czernin, who was born in Bulgaria but lives and works in Vienna, Austria, depicting images of the veil comes easily because she believes that the veil connects women with each other and unites them. In Czernin's self-portraits, the artist conceals part of her face with shapes resembling flower petals or leaves, recalling the latticework of the traditional Arabic mashrabiya, a common type of covered window used throughout the Muslim world to hide from public view the domestic lives of women.
Yet the topic of the veil is complex, according to Stadler. This is so even in the United States and in Austria, where veiled women do not provoke much controversy. In Austria, Islam has been an officially recognized religion since 1912, said Stadler, and "in the United States, the biggest nation of immigrants in the world, there are so many different ethnicities, languages and clothing styles that we could hardly seriously discuss a rejection of this piece of clothing." (See "Acceptance of Religious Garb in U.S. Shows Diversity, Tolerance.")