British Columbia

'It has so much baggage': Hijab scrutinized in art installation at SkyTrain station

The next time you're on the SkyTrain and pull up to the Stadium-Chinatown station, look up. There's an eye-catching photo installation along the platform, featuring shots of the same woman wearing layers of hijabs.

Artist Durrah Alsaif depicts herself wearing mounting layers of hijab, illustrating their symbolic weight

Visual artist Durrah Alsaif covers herself in layers of hijab in her new installation. (Caroline Chan/CBC)

The next time you're on the SkyTrain and pull up to the Stadium-Chinatown station, look up. 

There's an eye-catching photo installation along the platform, featuring shots of the same woman wearing layers of hijabs, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women.

In each photo, the woman adds a new colourful hijab. Her expression is blank and there's a sense of absurdity as her head becomes ensconced in fabric.

"The main focus is in the eyes," said Durrah Alsaif, the artist behind the installation. Alsaif used her own image in the photos.

"If a woman wants to wear one scarf, she can wear one scarf. If she wants to wear 50 of them, that's OK." 

Hijab can be 'fashionable'

The installation is called 'Qimash,' the Arabic word for fabric, and will be up for a year as part of the Capture Photography Festival. 

Alsaif — who grew up in Saudi Arabia and moved to Canada in 2008 — started the project as a public performance before turning it into a video piece. 

In her latest iteration, Alsaif presents a series of photos in which her head scarves multiply.

That accumulation illustrates the symbolic weight of the hijab. The vibrant colours and patterns are meant to subvert sombre depictions of black hijab, Alsaif said. 

"It can be colourful. It can be fashionable. There's nothing wrong with that," she said. 

Durrah Alsaif stands beside her installation. It will be up until March 2019 at the Stadium-Chinatown SkyTrain station. (Caroline Chan/CBC)

'It has so much baggage'

Alsaif wasn't a wearing a hijab while chatting on the platform.

When she does wear one, the hijab becomes more than just fabric, she said. It's tied to her identity and how people perceive her faith and culture.

The hijab has been a political flash point in Quebec, where a judge is under investigation after ordering a woman to remove her hijab in his courtroom. 

"It has so much baggage," Alsaif said. 

No one has recognized Alsaif on the platform so far, although she once observed a pair of women studying the photos as she sat next to them. 

"I want people to understand its significance to every woman who wears it," she said. 

"You shouldn't treat women who wear it differently." 

With files from CBC's Caroline Chan