British Columbia

Muslim woman's bra photo sparks controversy

The Saudi Arabian Embassy is speaking out against a photo taken by a Kamloops, B.C., fine arts student that shows a Muslim woman wearing a niqab and abaya, and holding up a bra as she sorts laundry.

University condemns staff member's actions

A photo of a Muslim woman wearing full Islamic dress and holding up a bra as she sorts laundry is stirring controversy in Kamloops, B.C., and the Saudi Arabian Embassy is now involved.

The photo, taken by Thompson Rivers University fine arts student Sooraya Graham, features one of Graham's friends wearing a niqab, a veil covering the face, and an abaya, a full-body cloak.

The picture was a class assignment and was originally displayed with other student photos in mid-March, until some students complained and a staff member tore it down a week later. 

"I was pretty shocked and I kind of felt my personal space as an artist and a Canadian had been invaded," said Graham.

Staff member acted alone

The photo taken by fine arts student Sooraya Graham of Kamloops, B.C., was torn down from a public display, and since installed at a university art gallery. (Sooraya Graham)

Christopher Seguin, the vice president of advancement at Thompson River University, said the art work was removed by a staff member who was acting on their own, and not in an official capacity.

Once the institution learned of the action, it immediately returned the art and made a commitment to cover any costs for its repair or replacement.

"The university is committed to honouring artistic expression and on a campus with many international stakeholders it is important that we balance cultural sensitivity with freedom of speech, and we value the conversations that this piece of art and all our others inspire," said Seguin.

Graham was allowed to display it at the university's art gallery, as part of an art show, until April 12th.

Saudi rep says photographer 'irresponsible'

But the Saudi Education Centre in Kamloops, which is funded by the Saudi Arabian government and provides support to Saudi students and their families, is taking issue with the photo.

"The artist didn't approach the artwork let's say in a very professional way that can state and can clarify the information and clarify the idea behind the picture," said centre president Trad Bahabri.

Bahabri said he thinks text explaining the photo's meaning is needed.

"I'm pretty sure many people misinterpret and many people misunderstand it. I can guarantee that," he said.

Graham counters it's up to the viewer to interpret the meaning, but says she had hoped the photo would show the public that women who wear the niqab are the same as everyone else.

With files from the CBC's Brady Strachan