Amy Baxter MacDonald

Seen/Unseen: Artist Statement

The burqa paintings began as an extension of the self-portraits I had been working on in 2009. I was making life-sized paintings while wearing high heels and tight-waisted cocktail dresses, curious to see how my physical discomfort affected both my process and the resulting paintings. When sciatica got the best of me, I opted for a rejection of glamour and purchased an Afghanistani burqa online. Now I would have freedom of movement but restricted vision.

The frustration I felt while trying to see gave way to some energetic brushwork I liked, but I soon abandoned the veil. As an artist who relies on her vision to paint from life, it angered me to learn that women are forced to wear these every time they leave their homes. Religious laws vary from one part of the country to another, but under the harshest laws they are punished if they fail to cover themselves properly. It is important to note that this problem is not unique to Islamic countries and is not meant as a critique of their culture. Orthodox Jews and Christians have their own mandates on modest dress and make lives for nonconformists unbearable. These began as paintings like any others, and they raised questions as I painted them. I do not have answers to these questions, I just have more questions.

Each painting in the series has a second painting on its flip side, inspired by accounts of women's lives behind the veil, the photographs of Stephanie Sinclair, and images found online. I am concerned for the welfare of women and political prisoners trapped there, and hope these paintings remind us that there are innocent people being tortured in prisons in parts of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Girls are often forced into marriage from age nine onwards. Some women in Afghanistan light themselves on fire as a last-resort means of protest, hoping to either die or make themselves unattractive to their husbands. Women can still be stoned to death for failing to comply with harsh rules they have no part in creating.