Your Veil Is a Battleground

A girl with dyed blonde hair at Tasua parade in the Jolfa neighborhood in Tehran. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

by James Estrin, Lens, NYTimes

Kiana Hayeri grew up in Tehran, where the country’s morality police restricted her public behavior. She left in 2005 when she was 17 and moved to Toronto, where she studied photography at Ryerson University.

Ms. Hayeri returned to Iran in 2010 to explore the dual lives of many young women who are expected to behave and dress modestly in public by covering their hair, arms and legs. But behind closed doors, these women act very much like Ms. Hayeri’s Canadian friends — dating, singing, studying ballet and even swimming.

“Everything that is banned by the government is being practiced, but behind closed doors,” said Ms. Hayeri, 24. “I think that my generation is exposed to the West through satellite and Internet so much that they don’t let the restrictions stop them.”

The young women she has photographed come from mostly middle- and upper-middle class religious families, though many of them are not religious themselves. Some of their parents were either relatively lenient or they found a way to dress conservatively when they left home but changed their clothing afterward.

Ms. Hayeri does not claim that her project represents the entirety of Iran. But she said there are many young people in the big cities who yearn for a less constricting public life.

“It’s a whole world that many Americans are unaware of,” she said. “Nowadays, with all this talk about war, sanctions and nuclear weapons, people tend to forget about ordinary people, the actual people who live in Iran, and they only look at the government.”

The religious restrictions on public behavior that were codified into Iranian law after the 1980 revolution are enforced by the morality police. When her subjects were stopped for a rolled-up sleeve or a scarf not covering their hair, they would fix the problem — at least for as long as the officer was in sight.

Ms. Hayeri herself was stopped and detained last year for wearing thick, black leggings that the morality police found provocative. A family member had to bring her appropriate clothing, and since her close relatives had all left Iran, it took a while to iron out.

Her project’s title, “Your Veil Is A Battleground,” refers not just to the hijab covering — or not covering — their heads in public, but also to the hidden nature of their private lives. It goes beyond the restrictions placed on women in public or their private rebellion. Ms. Hayeri also explores how the women choose to present themselves in public.

In diptych portraits, Ms. Hayeri photographed her subjects with and without clothes or makeup. She said their choice of material for the hijab and their makeup allows them to have some control over how they present their public persona.

“They use color and fashion to make them stand out from the crowd,” she said. “When they put on the hijab and makeup, they are more powerful.”

The issues are complex. Women are restricted in public, sometimes for wearing too much makeup. But makeup, in a sense, is a veil too, covering a woman’s real appearance.

“Persian culture is all about the image you present of yourself,” she said. “Even if you’re going out for grocery shopping, you put on makeup. So taking that off of your face takes a lot of courage.”

Though she is now a Canadian citizen, Ms. Hayeri said she was raised “in the same world” as her subjects. She said that there are many more younger, liberal, urban Iranians who would like to integrate their public and private lives.

“This is the generation that is trying to push the boundaries in every sense.”

Yassi and her friend en route to a gallery’s opening reception. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri
Women shopped for wigs in a mall in Tehran. 2010. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri
 A girl prepared to play paintball, a sport forbidden to women. 2010. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

An uncle gazed at his niece. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Maryam and her boyfriend drove around the city. Men and women in a car together invites extra scrutiny by the morality police. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Bahar texted during a house party in Tehran. 2012. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

Smoking at a party. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Maryam with her hijab on her shoulders. She ignores the urging of staff to pull her veil back up. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Young people celebrated Yalda night, the winter solstice, at a house party. 2011. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Girls in a park let their hijabs fall to their shoulders. 2010. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

A public gathering commemorates the death of Imam Hussain, Shiite Islam's holiest martyr. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Authorities shut down Parmida's ballet studio but she continues to practice in a basement. 2012. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 2012. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 A young woman sang along with a Kamancheh, a traditional Persian instrument, on the night of the winter solstice. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Women are not allowed to swim in public, even fully clothed. Nevertheless, a group of young women escaped the heat with a dip in the Caspian Sea. 2010. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 2010. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

Even though bold makeup is a concern of the morality police, Mina readied herself to go out. 2012. Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

 Image courtesy Kiana Hayeri

Thanks for reading Your Veil Is a Battleground

« Previous
« Prev Post


Post a Comment