A look From Behind the Niqab

Across the Middle East and elsewhere, some conservative Muslim women only look out at the world around them from behind the niqab.

For most, the niqab is a choice. They do so out of their own interpretation of the Quran and the hadith, a collection of traditions and anecdotes about the Prophet Muhammad, believing that a woman's body should be covered out of modesty.

As a photographer for The Associated Press, I travel across the Middle East and often see women wearing the niqab. Back home in Lebanon, how a woman dresses remains a personal choice, as some wear bikinis out to the beach, while other Muslims wear head scarves or the niqab.

But with the rise of the extremist Islamic State group in neighboring Syria and Iraq, the militants have forced women in areas under their control to wear the niqab. Penalties for disobeying them can be incredibly harsh — even death.

That means those women now see the world differently than they did before. A niqab is a veil that entirely covers the face or only has a small, slit-like opening for the eyes, changing the way a woman wearing one views life around her. Women also have to lift them up slightly to be able to eat or drink anything.

In my travels, I decided to begin shooting images through a full niqab to offer a glimpse of what it must be like to look through them. In my hometown of Beirut, I shot pictures of its famous corniche that way, the bright colors of the Mediterranean dimmed through it. The same happened at the Giza pyramids in Egypt, where a sunny blue sky grew dark.

Despite that, some women say they welcome the anonymity and protection from harassment the niqab offers.

Here are a series of AP photographs I shot of life viewed through the niqab across the Middle East.


 

 

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Text from the AP news story, AP PHOTOS: A look from the niqab, worn by some Muslim women, by Hassan Ammar. 

 

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Nat Castañeda is an interdisciplinary visual artist based in Brooklyn, New York. A California native, Castañeda works primarily in video and collage, with an emphasis on tactile intimacy with her materials remaining an important aspect of all her projects. Common issues in Castañeda’s work are the conflating of iconography and pornography, the questioning of traditional gender binaries, and the role of technology within personal narratives. She received her MFA from the School of Visual Arts and has shown at venues such as El Museo del Barrio and Electronic Arts Intermix. In addition to her art practice, Castañeda currently works at The Associated Press where she leads a team that curates AP's online archive of historic and contemporary photojournalism. Castañeda’s photography has appeared in the New York Times,U.S. News & World Report and USA Today.