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Soft Dividers and printed opacity for the construction of Muslim women’s self-identity: the Al Sadu tent divider, the veil and the materiality of privacy

This project explores the role that soft dividers, such as the Al Sadu tent divider and the veil, play in forming and constructing notions of privacy and self-identity for Muslim women. As a critical and material investigation, the project draws on my lived experience as a Saudi female artist who wears the veil in and outside Muslim countries and is conducted through practice-based research involving significant participatory work with female Muslim community groups in Saudi and Britain. Soft Dividers questions the degrees of visibility or shielding between religious and secular contexts to show how veiling and portable dividers aid the formation and representation of the self, enabling Muslim women as my participants to move within their own comfort zones across cultures.

My project begins with an investigation of the Al Sadu tent divider: as a form of weaving it is a deep-rooted Bedouin craft practiced mainly by women; as a woven cloth it separates private from public, and male from female zones in tented nomadic communities. My initial research into Al Sadu questions the relationship of this architectural fabric to the body and the Muslim woman’s veil, interrogating this through theories of ‘soft logic’ developed by Pennina Barnett and Gilles Deleuze. Adjusting my thinking, dialogues and art practice through an unjudgmental haptic collaboration with a varied group of Muslim women leads to a greater understanding of how privacy between the sexes is situated in the Arab social and cultural context, as discussed by Fadwa El Guindi and Fatema Mernissi.

In socio-political debate, my research explores interpretations of veiling as a soft divider and its implications of privacy. Soft Dividers offers an original contribution to the understanding of the intersectionality between embodied material encounters challenging conventional notions of Muslim women's subjectivity, and how this translates into the West for the modern, veiled Muslim woman as an intercultural dialogue.

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