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What if I Want to Water Ski? And Other Questions

More often than not, controversial themes have little place in the Malaysian art scene. Fortunately, Penang has taken the lead in art projects which question social norms, particularly on topics of religion.

What if I want to Water Ski? And other Questions
is a digital media installation by Australian-born visual artist Victoria Cattoni. She engages us to unveil our perceptions and misconceptions on the Muslim headscarf for women (known as a tudong locally). This is a sensitive topic in the Muslim community, and one that will stir much debate. Intrigued by this issue, I took the opportunity to visit the exhibition.

Held at the Penang State Gallery at the Dewan Sri Pinang, Cattoni’s work features a series of photographic portraits, video interviews, and interactive books.

As part of the broader project, the video commentaries from ‘Redressing the Veil’ presented a diverse group of women - Muslims and non-Muslims who took part in the interactive workshops. Each person put on the headscarf and then shared their experiences and thoughts.

One Muslim woman stated that she felt closer to God when she put on the tudong. However, she pointed out that it didn’t mean women who wear tudongs are holier, as she personally knew women who did not wear tudongs who were more spiritual and righteous than those who wear one. She also stated that being spiritual is from the heart, not from the outside.

Some participants who put on a headscarf for the first time, reacted in different ways. Some consider the headscarf as just a garment. Others, a religious act, a form of modesty, and a cultural practice.

I was heartened to see so many different women participate in this important dialogue.

Victoria Cattoni explained that through this work, she wishes to challenge the stereotypes of mainstream media which have the tendency of rendering a one-dimensional portrayal of Muslim women in veils. I think she has not only pushed us to think about the representation of Muslim women in headscarfs, but also wider themes related to women.

About the artist
Victoria Cattoni is an independent researcher continuing a visual arts/new media project being undertaken in Singapore, Malaysia and northern Australia.

She has lived and worked in Penang for periods of time since 2005. She comes back to Penang regularly.


Genius Workshop said...

What an intriguing project! Thanks for sharing this.