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Seen and Unseen: Peering Behind the Veil

three women

While global tensions and news reports may have focused public attention on images of women in veils, Jennifer Heath says the lens should be opened up to view veils more fully.

“Veils may be a means of concealment, but they are inherently visual as well,” says Heath, a cultural journalist and author. “We see them increasingly as symbols of oppression and violence, yet veils are not the preserve of one set of religious practices – Catholic nuns wear them, as do most Western brides.”

Heath is the featured speaker at a two-day symposium that delves into the practice, history and future of veiling. The symposium, which runs Feb. 7 and 8, is titled “Seen and Unseen: (Dis) Covering the Meaning of the Veil.”

“Current tensions over Islamic veiling often collide with civil liberties, and those tensions can distract from deeply urgent feminist concerns of poverty, disease, hunger, maternal and infant death rates, environmental degradation and war,” says Heath.

She will give an illustrated lecture, “The Veil: Visible and Invisible Spaces,” on Monday, Feb. 7, at 4 p.m., in the Idaho Commons Whitewater Room. She will discuss the politics of concealing and revealing hair; male veiling; the veil in popular culture; veiling in religious traditions worldwide and more. Two short films -- “Confluence,” by Turkish-American artist Tulu Bayar, and “Hollywood Harems,” by Egyptian-American documentary filmmaker Tania Kamal-Eldin – will be shown in conjunction with her talk.

Heath is editor of “The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics” (University of California Press, 2008) and curator of the traveling exhibition, “Ways of Seeing: Veils from Inside Out to Outside In,” which will be on display at the University of Idaho’s Prichard Art Gallery, 414 S. Main St., from Tuesday, Feb. 8 through Sunday, Feb. 13.

The exhibition includes selected items from Idaho’s Leila Old Historic Costume Collection in the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences, curated by collection director Susan Torntore. The exhibition includes 19th and 20th century bridal veils, cocktail hats and a “motoring veil.” Several short films and interactive new media by 13 artists from the U.S., Europe, Middle East and North Africa are included in the exhibit.

In addition:

• Heath will lead a gallery talk at the Prichard Gallery on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 10 a.m.

• Area women, joined by Heath as moderator, will discuss “The Complexity of Invisibility.” The panel discussion explores the veil and veiling practices in multiple contexts to reveal its complex contemporary cultural meanings in both Western and non-Western societies. It takes place on Tuesday, Feb. 8, from 3-5 p.m. Feb. 8, in the Idaho Commons Whitewater Room.

Additional information about the University's Leila Olds Costume Collection is online at www.uidaho.edu/cals/fcs/content/lohcc.

Support for the two-day symposium is provided by the School of Journalism and Mass Media and funded through a Diversity Initiative Growth Grant with additional contributions from the Women’s Center, the Margaret Ritchie School of Family and Consumer Sciences, and the Prichard Art Gallery.