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Campus To Host U.S. Premiere of ‘Breaking the Veils’


New Haven, Conn. — An exhibition designed to challenge stereotypes on women and the arts in the Islamic world will open on Tuesday, Sept. 1, at the Institute of Sacred Music (ISM), 409 Prospect St.

“Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World,” is a selection of work by established female artists — some veiled, others not — from Islamic countries as diverse as Sudan, Malaysia, Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, as well as the Levant, the Gulf states and North Africa. The international exhibition is hosted by Yale’s Council on Middle East Studies (CMES), part of the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies. It will be on view through Dec. 12.

All of the works in the exhibition come from the collection of the Royal Society of Fine Arts of Jordan. Included among these are works by the society’s founder and president, Princess Wijdan Al-Hasheni of Jordan, who is also an artist. CMES has worked with the non-profit ArtReach Foundation, the exhibit’s exclusive presenting organization in the United States, as well as ISM and the Yale Divinity School, to bring the show to Yale.

“Breaking the Veils” was inaugurated by Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan in 2002 at Porte d’Ambrose in Rhodes, Greece. Comprising works by 52 artists representing 21 Islamic countries, the collection covers a range of media, from oils, acrylics and watercolors to silk-screens, etchings, collages and treated photographic print.

CMES chair Marcia C. Inhorn, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, and CMES outreach director Molly Moran decided to bring “Breaking the Veils” to campus as a way to highlight the commitment of CMES and Yale to the arts and to programming on gender in the Middle East.

“Yale is known for its outstanding commitment to all of the fine arts,” says Inhorn. "So what better place than Yale to initiate this U.S. academic tour of an incredible exhibit from the Islamic world?

“Yale’s CMES is very proud to be sponsoring this unique exhibit of contemporary women’s art,” she continues. “The pieces themselves are striking, and truly help us to see that Muslim women are engaged in very modern and brilliant forms of artistic expression. The exhibit is rightfully called ‘Breaking the Veils’ because it helps to break down Western misunderstandings about women’s lives and the role of art in the Muslim world.”

Moran and Jasmine Melvin-Koushki, curator of “Breaking the Veils” at Yale, have designed a program of events in conjunction with the exhibit with the goal of further exploring the themes and questions presented by its featured works.

“Yale University’s showing of ‘Breaking the Veils’ is that rare international event in which the arts, academics and diplomacy seamlessly merge,” says Melvin-Koushki, an alumna of the University with Irish-American and Iranian roots who grew up between Riyadh, Istanbul, Boston, Kuwait and Tehran. “As a woman whose impression of life has been formed between East and West, it gives me great pleasure to help bring this exhibit to life for an American audience.”

She cautions, however, against an oversimplified reading of the exhibition’s title, saying, “ ‘Breaking the Veils’ should not be equated with the all-too-common discourse of liberating Muslim women from behind or beyond their veils. Rather, it suggests the action of chipping away at a distorted image of Middle Eastern women as somehow uniquely in need of liberation in the first place.”

CMES will use the exhibit as an opportunity for educational and community outreach through complementary lectures, performances, films and roundtable events. It will also host an interdisciplinary, full-day workshop for K-12 teachers on Islamic art, with the show as its focal point. Notes Moran: “ ‘Breaking the Veil’ presents the perfect opportunity to provide Connecticut teachers with a professional development option that combines the themes of Islamic art with issues of gender in the Muslim world. The depth and creativity represented by this art will be a powerful statement that teachers can then take into their individual classrooms.”

Inhorn notes that the exhibition at Yale is particularly timely, as the University inaugurated a new undergraduate major in modern Middle East studies last fall. Spearheaded by members of CMES and professors in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, the new major complements Yale’s existing strengths in Near Eastern and medieval Middle Eastern and Islamic studies and reflects the University’s commitment to nurturing a well-contextualized, contemporary perspective on the Middle East, she says.

As globally significant developments in the Middle East unfold daily, CMES provides an academic platform where students and faculty can debate the myriad contemporary, historical, political and cultural issues of relevance to the region, as well as in North Africa and beyond. As a National Resource Center for Middle East Studies, CMES serves as a central resource for the Yale community, the region and the nation on issues pertaining to the Middle East.

The show’s presenting organization, the Atlanta-based ArtReach Foundation, is dedicated to the healing power of the arts. Since 1999, the foundation has used creative, expressive art therapies to help children who have experienced the traumatic effects of war, violence or natural disaster. The foundation is currently developing the ArtReach Middle East Institute in Amman, Jordan, to train educators to address the needs of tens of thousands of children displaced by the war in Iraq.

“Breaking the Veils” will end its world tour at the United Nations in June 2011.

For further information about the exhibit and its related programs, visit the CMES website at


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