Thursday, February 02, 2006

The In T View: Amir Normandi, No Hejab Is Required

Iranian-American photographer Amir Normandi took the Blogosphere
by storm in 2005, when his No Veil Is Required show at Harper College in Illinois was cancelled after a few Muslim students protested the inclusion of nudity in the exhibition.

Normandi, 57, who escaped Iran at the height of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and emigrated to the United States, has been captivated by the visual image his entire life, taking more than One Million photographs in his long career as a professional photographer, which he continues to this day, at his d'Last Studios in Chicago.

MG: Amir Normandi, Welcome to the In T View. Could provide a description of yourself?

Amir Normandi: I am just another person with fascination of my surroundings, but lucky to have access to still cameras, enabling me to capture scenes and acts of my life theater.

MG: Amir, you were born in the beautiful Iranian city of Rasht on the edge of the Caspian Sea. A nice place? Would like to return to it? Did growing up in Rasht have any influence on your life's work?

Amir Normandi: Yes, Rasht is a very beautiful city and I would love to go back there. Unfortunately I did not grow up in Rasht. But, I was brought up under the influence of Rasht culture in Tehran, culture of respect for humanity and their habitats.

MG: You left your native Iran in 1979 right at the time of Revolution. What was your main reason for leaving? And was it a perilous escape?

Amir Normandi: I left my native land after casting a no vote for the Islamic Republic Regime. I left after witnessing my euphoric nation being cheated by a group of Religious Merchants, Mercenaries, Opportunists, and Traitors whom aided the re-invasion of Iran by the Islamic Sword.

MG: Amir, you've commented in the past, that your Great-Grandfather was, "revered as a saint with (a) blood line linked to Prophet Mohammad..." Can you go in to more detail about who your great-grandfather was?

Amir Normandi: Allegedly he was a -- holy/wise and learned man -- great-grand child of Prophet Mohammad. The Forefathers Shrine ( Jaad-Khaneh) where my great, great grandfather is buried, was declared a domain of Holy Centers and Religious Foundations in 1970. Even the brook that passes through my ancestor's land and his grave site was named -Tahir Goorab- (Chaste grave side-water). One of the legends about him is that his sandals use to come together after he took them off after entering a home. The lays still visit his shrine on Thursdays' eve of Islamic Sabbath day Friday.

MG: Amir, you became somewhat of a cause celebre in the Blogosphere and Media in 2005 when Harper College cancelled your No Veil Is Required photo exhibition, after Muslim students complained that the photographs were offensive. Even if the photographs were "Offensive" to Muslims, should they as a very small minority, have had the power to force Harper College to curtail your exhibition?

Amir Normandi: No, they should not have or be given the power, nor should a large majority have the power, to silence any member of society because of that member's thinking and stands.

MG: Harper College's International Studies Coordinator Richard Johnson, who was responsible for bringing No Veil Is Required to Harper College and closing the exhibition down, claimed in a 2005 Chicago Reader article, that your post-exhibition actions -- such as issuing a press release and having Chicago televison stations show up at your forum -- were a "'huge puiblciity stunt...'" How do you respond to these charges?

Amir Normandi: No matter how they spin it, Harper College gave democracy and freedom of expression a black eye by shutting down the "No Veil is Required Exhibit" . Even with my extensive effort in publicizing that dark day in Harper's history, reporters Alex Perez of NBC-5 and Ben Bradly of ABC-7 failed to see beyond the lawyers line which was put out by Harper's spokesperson. What was amazing that NBC-5 put out an on line survey that polled over 600 visitor of their internet site and 72% of them disagreed with Harper's action is shutting down my exhibition. In short: No it was not a stunt; it was a civil act to show the ugly face of censorship.

MG: Why did you file a Censorship Lawsuit against Harper College for cancelling your exhibition and then decide to drop the case?

Amir Normandi: I did not file any lawsuit. The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) -- as an advocate of civil liberties -- wrote a letter of inquiry with regards to rules governing the display of art work inside the Harper's campus inline with the Illinois and the United States Freedom of Information Act. Since Harper hired a law firm that charged hundreds of dollars per hour to defend them instead of simply furnishing the data and being transparent, they went in to legal advisories mode by mailing irrelevant emails in duplicates and hiding themselves behind a different kind of veil. I did not want taxpayers money to be spent on defense of a grossly wrong decision.

MG: Was it necessarily a bad thing that your exhibit was cancelled, as it drew much more attention to your work and subject matter?

Amir Normandi: No, it was a good outcome in spite of Harper's misguided reaction in removing my exhibit.

MG: And what was the central theme of No Veil Is Required?

Amire Normandi: Self determination and defiance of gender-specific dress code.

MG: Amir, you are anti-Hejab or Hijab. Can you explain for those who don't know, what a hijab is, and why you're against it?

Amir Normandi: Hejab is the general term for the compulsory dress code for women in Islamic societies. This Hejab is the same covering known as ABAYA in Saudi Arabia, Burqua in Afghanistan, and Chador in Iran. I am against forced Hejab which is a gender specific dress code and a tool for domination of women. It is almost always enforced by men and it is a segregation method which ends up making a woman a half human.

MG: If you portrayed Christian women in robes exhibiting some nudity would there have been any sort of outcry, and would Harper College have allegedly caved in like they did?

To read the rest of the In T View, please click

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