The subjects in Patrizia Maïmouna Gurresi’s photographs are surreal. They stand abnormally tall, as if on stilts, or float in the air; they are either incomplete or have voids within them. However, their garments hint at their cultural identities. Guerresi says they stand for cultural hybridisation and that they could be Muslim or from any other religion. She herself is an example of such a hybridisation. Having travelled to various Muslim African countries, she converted to Islam and took the name Maïmouna. Her photos revolve around Islam and other religions, focussing on women. Ahead of her first exhibition in the city, called Inner Space, she talks about her work, the significance of the veil and inaccurate popular depictions of Muslim women.
What is the principal thought behind Inner Space?
The main theme is the mystical body. It is a symbolic journey into spiritual worlds that are new and unknown, represented by temple doors and (elements from) religious architecture.
Why do human bodies appear hollow in your photographs?
The black void has a double meaning, a metaphor for the fear of something unknown, and at the same time, a new energy that can only be accessed through faith.
Where do you think the Muslim woman stands in a world where preconceptions surround Islam and its women?
Through my work, I want to reverse the stereotypical image of women in Islam as subjugated and humiliated, as represented by the western media. Throughout the history of Islam, there are examples of female characters who are distinguished for their sanctity or culture, and I feel the need to represent that Muslim woman.
The hijab has been a matter of much debate, having been banned, criticised and defended. As an artist representing Islam through her work, what is its purpose in the present world?
The hijab as a garment is just a traditional costume. The veil has a long pre-Islamic tradition. It was worn by religious women as a sign of subjection to Saint Paul, and it was the distinctive sign between the rich noblewomen and the prostitutes and slaves. The latter were bareheaded, while the veil was to protect respectable women, so they could not be harassed. It was later that the veil became the religious and political sign for Muslim women.