• The Al-Sadu tent divider, the veil and the materiality of privacy: The construction of Muslim women's self-identity through the printed opacity of soft dividers

Al-Ogayyel, Rana, 2023, Thesis, The Al-Sadu tent divider, the veil and the materiality of privacy: The construction of Muslim women's self-identity through the printed opacity of soft dividers PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

This project explores the role that soft dividers, such as the al-Sadu Bedouin tent divider and the veil, play in forming notions of privacy and self-identity for Muslim women. As a critical and material investigation, the project draws on my lived experience as a Saudi female artist who wears the veil in and outside Muslim countries informed by practice-based research involving participatory work with Muslim women in Saudi and Britain. Soft Dividers, a series of printed textile artworks, addresses visibility and shielding to show how veiling and portable dividers support the formation and presentation of the self, enabling my participants to move within their own comfort zones across public–private transnational contemporary contexts.

My project begins with an investigation of al-Sadu weaving, a deep-rooted Bedouin craft practised mainly by women, constructed to separate private from public and male from female zones in tented nomadic communities. My initial research into al-Sadu draws on Pennina Barnett’s theory of non-linear, non-binary ‘soft logic’. Dialogues and art practice involving non-judgmental haptic collaborations with groups of Muslim women led to a greater understanding of the situating of gender-based privacy in Arab socio-cultural contexts, as discussed by Fadwa El Guindi and Fatema Mernissi.

My thesis offers an understanding of the relationship between the tent divider and the veil as a metaphor for spatial privacy by investigating aspects of psycho-spatial comfort zones for veiled Muslim women. By connecting al-Sadu with the veil, my research focuses on the veil and soft dividers as qualitative indicators of privacy and self-identity. I follow Richard Sennett’s theory of ‘thinking through making’, using scaled-up printed textiles to explore how the veil embodies a portable private space. I developed my research with another group of Muslim women, focusing on immaterial spatial aspects of privacy, observing sequence and movement through photography and video. I addressed my findings to reinforce my methodology with a third perspective, investigating the retail changing-room as a vulnerable and temporal private space in a public setting, collaborating with older Muslim women and exploring their lived experience to interpret ideas of individuality, as well as generational social conditioning. The final collaborative work, a fluid maze in which a two Muslim women, veiled and unveiled, navigated increasingly opaque soft dividers, further informed my investigations into psycho-spatial privacy and female identity.

As an ongoing intercultural dialogue, Soft Dividers offers an original contribution to the understanding of privacy from the perspectives of Muslim women living in Saudi and in London. My findings challenge conventional notions of Muslim women’s subjectivity, and initiate a debate around the agency of women in their experiences of privacy. I demonstrate that the veil and my soft dividers offer a socially significant, psychological, and embodied practice that varied among Muslim women. Negotiating soft dividers, such as the veil, introduces a ‘potency of adjustment,’ allowing me to achieve a ‘period of equilibrium’ during my active participation, and show an understanding of Muslim women’s privacy on a material level, a physical explanation of movement, and, more broadly, the metaphysical interpretation of privacy.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W100 Fine Art
School or Centre: School of Arts & Humanities
Funders: Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University, Saudi Arabian Cultural Bureau, London
Uncontrolled Keywords: Printmaking; Participatory Research; Materiality; Culture; Textiles
Date Deposited: 19 Sep 2023 15:08
Last Modified: 19 Sep 2023 15:08
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/5532
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