Fawzia Khan, ‘Becoming Visible’
I am a practicing artist who has embraced art as a second career. A Pakistani-American born in Nigeria, I became a U.S. citizen at age 18. Like many child immigrants, I feel I have a foot in more than one culture but do not wholly belong to any. I grew up with certain expectations of my role as a daughter, wife, and mother. Identity, gender roles, veils and barriers are themes that run through my art.
I have made several works about the burka and niqab, the robes and face veils that some Muslim women wear. Covering a woman’s face makes her anonymous and invisible. Patriarchy is less obvious in western society, but exists nonetheless. For example, in Minnesota we still have not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. Even though western women may not wear the niqab, their accomplishments are still undervalued.
As the fortunate recipient of a 2020 Minnesota Artist Initiative Grant, I interviewed twelve Minnesotan women (including transwomen and nonbinary individuals) from various walks of life, from the original inhabitants to our newest immigrants. I manipulated photos of them and digitally embroidered images of their eyes on flour sack dishtowels, a symbol of traditional gender roles. I use embroidery as a metaphor for the laborious nature of unacknowledged “women’s work.” The work is hung at eye level around a room so that upon entering, the viewer becomes “the viewed.” With this relationship reversal, the women become visible. The installation also incorporates the contributions of these women to Minnesota through written summaries and a video. There are longer videos on each woman available on the website. The work will allow audiences to see the strengths and contributions of these women to Minnesota and acknowledge the many roles women play today.