Exhibition Review: The Space Within
By Leah Pfenning
With existing bans against women in France, Austria and Belgium and Angela Merkel pushing towards a ban on the burqa in Germany, it comes into question, what is so dangerous about these veiled women? First, it’s important to understand what we are talking about when we say, burqa. Though burqas, and burqa-style coverings, are predominantly associated with Muslim women, many religions around the world have orthodox sects that advocate for the modest covering up of women including, Sikhism, Judaism and even Christianity. There is a fluidity which in referencing the various types of veils worn by women across these religions, Westerners are known to generalize, leading with ignorance rather than insight.
Lili Almog, the Israeli born photographer is currently showing her two-part exhibition, The Space Within at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem. Almog’s work features The Drawing Room and Seasons, two series both featuring women in full black cover dress against dichotomous backgrounds, creating a tension between women as subject and veil as subject. The photographs are framed in wooden boxes resembling shipping crates, commenting on society’s habitual boxing up of women. What makes women so box up-able, Almog asks, and how does the veiling of women contribute to the global female identity crisis?
In Seasons, Almog features veiled women against bright foliage in urban landscapes. Their black silhouettes cast against lush flora creates a dramatic polarity, making these dark figures appear otherworldly, bold and dominant, the veils thus giving over a surprising power to the women. The photographer comments, “By being shrouded in black, these women both reference and negate the distinction between specific cultures and faiths.” The mystery entreats a curiosity and summons a dialogue about the interchange between culture, faith and individuality.
Almog creates tableaus of veiled women in historical art contexts in The Drawing Room. Replacing what we would expect to be ‘women in the nude’ for ‘women in cover-dress’ forces the viewer to re-imagine their relationship with women as object. By Almog setting her subjects in a context that inherently objectifies women and then masking the “object” itself, she creates a new tension that pulls the viewer away from objectification and towards a more subjective perspective as it fosters a relationship between the viewer and the subject. It’s a complex formula, but Almog takes care to acknowledge the duality with a consistent and direct theme: you can put a woman in any box, in any mask or veil, but being a woman, she is already far larger than the container.
Despite the facelessness, the portraiture in The Space Within is intimate and formidable. Almog has constructed a box that is broken through again and again by the veiled women in her photographs. The work is political, blatant and wildly important. Proverbially un-veiling the veiled, Almog demands attention for the un-looked upon while reminding the world of the ineffable grandeur of women.
Tower of David Museum
October 1 – November 17