Faiza Galdhari is a printmaker whose works examine the traditional roles and identities of women. Although she is no longer a practising artist, her thought-provoking works are a part of our art heritage as evidenced by the fact that she is the only Indian woman artist included in the visual arts syllabus in South African schools. Her prints form part of the collection at the Tatham Gallery and the print Purdah (a detail of which is featured above) is held at the Durban Art Gallery. Galdhari has participated in many exhibitions and was nominated for the FNB Vita Art Award (together with Bronwyn Findlay and Daina Mabunda) for a project called Threads in 2002.
Faiza Galdhari (born 1970) is of mixed descent and as such was labeled ‘Coloured’ by the Apartheid government. She and her family were moved from an Indian area to a Coloured one as designated by the Group Areas Act. As a Muslim, she remembers how alienated she felt growing up in an area that was predominantly Christian. She was further alienated by the fact that she also grew up outside of the Indian community. After matriculating at Hill View High School in Newlands East (Durban) Galdhari studied Fine Art at the University of Durban-Westville (UDW). She completed her BA Degree in 1991 and went on to graduate with a Master’s Degree in 1999.
Faiza Galdhari’s great challenge as a Muslim artist was to follow the dictates of Islam which prohibits representational or figurative images in visual art while employing the western artistic traditions which she had been taught. Aware that her early works received negative criticism from the Muslim community, Galdhari’s responded by stating,
“My personal view is that these images which are meant to be viewed for their aesthetic merits alone, should not be classed in the same category as those which are produced for unIslamic practices…I have produced these images with the aim of conveying a particular message to the viewer, just in the same way that an author uses text to make a particular point. …every Muslim artist should be aware of the traditions governing art, but they should also be able to exercise the responsibility to distinguish between the use and abuse of representational imagery in art.”
Galdhari’s early experiences of constantly being labeled Coloured, Malay, Indian, or Muslim was to inform most of her artwork as is evident from the screen print titled Who Am I? (above). Set against a background of bold splashes of colour is the duplicated image of a woman. In these multiple images the woman has various tints of colour across her face. The scarf across the woman’s face further hides her identity from the viewer. During apartheid skin colour and race were determining factors of how people were categorized rather than religion and culture. The duplicated images of the woman here represent the different labels assigned to Galdhari during her formative years all of which ultimately represent aspects of her.
A similar idea is explored in Purdah which features a close up of a woman’s eyes with a solid band above and below it. This echoes the idea of a woman wearing a yashmak (veil), while Purdah refers to the practice of women being secluded or wearing the hijab to cover their bodies. The band above the eyes is decorated with oriental designs in red and gold. The band below features Arabic writing, western text, an outline of a face, a shoe and some fashion labels.In this print Galdhari attempts to confront some of the misconceptions that those who do not know Islamic scripture have about Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab. They tend to believe that it is a sign of women’s oppression but Galdhari points out that it is a choice that women make of their own free will. She believes that the veil is ‘protective not restrictive’ and that within it women have more freedom since they can be valued for who they are and not what they look like. Modern women are constantly judged by their physical appearance and the pressure to always look perfect creates a different type of oppression. The inclusion of a shoe, labels for cosmetics and costume jewellery are intended to show that Muslim women still maintain their femininity and appearance when they wear the hijab although it is not for the public gaze.
The next print I want to discuss, titled Irony is part of a series for Art for Humanity’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Galdhari was invited to illustrate Article 30: Freedom from State or Personal interference in the above Rights. She chose to focus on the rights of women with special emphasis on Muslim women. The print shows two Muslim women with their heads covered; the older one appears to look down and holds her forehead as if careworn. Galdhari included a hand, an eye and a bar-code which are all universally understood as ways of identifying people or objects. Within state institutions bar-coded identity documents, finger prints and retinal scanning are all ways of identifying and controlling people. On a personal level people also identify, label and stereotype others. If they view others negatively it can lead to them curtailing the rights of others to equality and human dignity.
The wedding rings on the woman’s hand and the Islamic symbols below are meant to allude to the sanctity of marriage within the Islamic context. Galdhari has called this piece Irony saying,
“I have also used the work as a platform to play on the ironies that exist regarding “freedom” in the present world and the irony surrounding western misconceptions about “oppression” in the Muslim world.”
Conversions in my Mind Then and Now is a series of four prints that shows Galdhari’s move away from more representational art toward using calligraphic script, arabesque and highly patterned symbols. In the above image, she juxtaposes these with a map, the words ‘Indian’, ‘Coloured’ and official documents. Galdhari also includes Indian sweetmeats eg. jelebi since one of the ways we learn to identify with our culture is through food. All these elements refer to Galdhari’s displacement while growing up and the loss not just of a home but of a sense of community and identity.
Faiza Galdhari has become more fully immersed in her faith and has chosen not to engage in the artworld any longer. However her work continues to make powerful statements about the nature of freedom for women within an Islamic context and the different ways that women identify themselves in a post-apartheid society.
Hobbs & Rankin, Printmaking in a Transforming South Africa
Proud, H. Scratches on the Face.
Moodley, N. Unpublished Dissertation