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Exhibit Gets Personal With Young Muslims And Their Hijabs

Nicole Nixon / KUER

An exhibit featured at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art shows that while many Muslim women wear headscarves, they choose to do so for a variety of reasons.

The exhibit at Salt Lake City’s UMOCA features about a dozen Styrofoam head mannequins wearing hijabs. Each model was created by a Muslim girl in Salt Lake City.  The faces are painted bright colors—some even have lipstick and eyeshadow. The styles, fits, colors and patterns of the faces and their headscarves are all unique. And Ana Antunes says that’s the point.

"We were trying to fight that idea that Muslims are the homogenous community," she said.

Antunes, a PhD candidate in the University of Utah’s Department of Education, Culture and Society, got the girls together to start the project. Antunes says they surveyed people around the Salt Lake Valley and at their own schools to see what people in Utah know about Islam.

The young women found a lot of misinformation, especially about the hijab.  

"What we found is that people have no idea why women wear hijabs,"

Survey respondents mostly saw it as a symbol of gender oppression, and "that men make (women) wear it," said Antunes. "Their fathers or husbands or whatever make (women) wear them. But (people) can’t really explain what the hijab is or what it means to people."

A couple of the hijabs on display have headbands. One has a black leopard-printed ball cap incorporated into the style. Some are wrapped around the mannequin’s neck, while others loosely cover the head. 

In messages alongside the hijabs, each young woman explains why she chooses to wear it. Some cite reasons like modesty and protection. Others say it gives them pride and confidence. 

"All the negative stereotypes that have been placed on the hijab, as well as Muslim women, are truly sad," wrote a 17-year-old girl names Tabarek, "but the hijab has made me nothing but stronger."

The exhibition, called Al Ahad, is on display at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art through November 18.

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