What’s interesting about this image and the series it’s part of is how it’s interpreted inside and outside of Yemen (where the photographer is from) and from around the Middle East region and then beyond that.
To quote global voices: “Eloïse Lagrenée [fr] has posted on her Facebook page a picture by Yemeni photographer Bushra Almutawakel, illustrating how women could vanish into darkness and invisibility, step by step, under fundamentalist pressure and the full niqab. It has been shared over 1,500 times.”
Anahi Alviso-Marino critiques this image and the others in the series:
"These identity experiments have made her explore herself and the political uses of her culture with the intention to stay away from orientalist representations. In relation to the potential risk of having her work being interpreted as orientalist she stresses that, while speaking from her personal experience, she tries to stay away from the beauty part of it and from exotic views of the hijab. However, it is possible to argue that her work still reproduces a visual stereotype of a certain type of Muslim woman at the same time that she tries to question this very stereotype. A stereotype of a stereotype? Neither she considers her work controversial for she hasn’t tested all the limits. While assuming that her work is more oriented towards a Western public, she also acknowledges that she still feels reluctant to the reactions people might have in her own country."
The rest of the photo series is here.
In all the links above, what I find more interesting is the reaction from Western, self described lefties, who seem to continually grapple with their own problems regarding Muslim women covering up to various degrees.
Most conservatives in the West are fairly comfortable in their own double standards. They find Muslim religious decrees on people to be horrible crimes against women, though have no problem with the cultural dictates that control a women’s behaviour so long as it comes from their own back yard.
People on the left in the West seem to face a dilemma: They champion women’s rights in their own country, but seem to find that their need to raise the banner for multi-culturalism, diversity, tolerance, anti-imperialism, etc., blocks them from applying a comparative moral/ethical standard. It adds more difficulty when (as in the photo above) there’s a woman from the "other" culture being critical about attire within that one, but to a global audience. Instead, we see comments about how this could be "offensive" to women, or they focuses on some technical detail: “she wouldn’t wear that in that way.”
All this detracts from having to engage and deal with the content and subtext of the image. They don’t focus on another possible outcome: that it could be empowering, informative or enlightening. Either reaction is possible. That’s what makes it decent art. It should make you uncomfortable and attack your sensibilities.