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Artist's exhibit of Muslim women transcends faiths

Ameena Khan’s artwork, including “Portrait of Zahra,” is on display at the Carrollwood Cultural Center.
Published Jul. 8, 2016

CARROLLWOOD — With garnet eyes and red-wine lips, a Muslim woman in white hijab stares sternly outward.

She is fierce, she is angry, and she is beautiful, reflecting the message that the artist who painted her wants to convey — Muslim women do not need rescue.

Ameena Khan of Lutz said Muslim women like her often are misrepresented as victims.

Khan's 40-piece gallery aims to puncture those stereotypes and create an open dialogue about Muslim women. Her exhibit, called "Loud Print," is on display at the Carrollwood Cultural Center, 4537 Lowell Road. A free reception open to the public is scheduled from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday. The exhibit runs through Aug. 24.

"It feels like there's a barrier, and I want to break that barrier," she said.

Khan uses her artwork to initiate conversations about Muslim women. Her paintings portray a diverse group of women wearing hijabs, a cloth wrapped around their heads. One of the most striking paintings shows a woman struggling to keep her head up because her yellow hijab is so big. It's meant to represent the struggles Muslim women face wearing a hijab in public.

Meant to keep Muslim women hidden, the hijab seems instead to draw unwanted attention and sometimes hateful comments, Khan said.

"You have this burden that you're carrying around," she said. "That's all people see."

On display on the first floor of the cultural center are Khan's paintings of women in hijabs along with women of different faiths holding hands and coming together to show peace. They are sisters of religion, the 36-year-old artist said.

On the walls of the second floor hang a series of 24 statements by Muslim women, teenagers to grandmothers, each covered with a swath of a hijab. The series, titled "Just a Peek, Please?" is an interactive work where the viewer lifts the veil to gain an understanding of Muslim women who have worn the hijab.

"I wanted it to be about the women and their stories," Khan said.

Khan said she solicited her subjects via Facebook and was surprised by the outpouring of interest.

"It was kind of overwhelming. Some of the statements were sad."

Some women expressed fear about wearing their hijabs. One read, "Lately I've been feeling like my hijab is attracting attention rather than deterring it."

But most women view their hijabs as crowns. Another painting read, "As a Muslim woman I feel liberated. My hijab exudes honor and integrity, but most of all it is a symbol of my independence."

One of the subjects, Djamila Abdel-Jaleel, provided Khan a statement as well as her first hijab — beige with a red and blue tree design.

"It has become so much a part of my identity," Abdel-Jaleel said. "It's just a part of my whole being."

Abdel-Jaleel, 58, said she is bringing her daughter, 32, and two granddaughters, 16 and 8. She said she thinks the narratives help show non-Muslims that Muslim women should be seen as more than their religion.

"They can't be defined by this head covering," she said.

As for Khan, she wants to use her love of art to show she is the same as any other woman.

"I just see myself as a human. I'm a mother, I'm a teacher."

Contact Ariana Figueroa at afigueroa@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3350. Follow @ArianaLFigueroa.

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