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Companionship. See me. Let me see you. The agreement is basic and starts with a glance. I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours: dreams and fears; beliefs and traditions; passions and desires. My quest to find a compatible companion has always started with a telling glance, until I found myself living in a Muslim country where women wear ahbyas.

What kind of a woman wears an ahbya? My feminist training lead me to believe that the delicately woven black fabric wrapping their bodies, and covering some of their faces, had enclosed their minds. Surely they could not see how they looked to me. And I certainly could not see the woman wearing an ahbya: I only saw a figure draped in black in the desert.

Unable to see, I began to listen. I heard the familiar voices of women demanding to be recognized, appreciated and included. I realized it wasn‘t their minds, but mine that was enclosed by the ahbya. With this realization, I was able to see what kind of woman wears an ahbya: every kind. Women in the ahbya are not forbidden temptresses from the Garden of Eden, nor are they prized virgins waiting for deflowering in Paradise. They are women: as simple as sunflowers, as sophisticated as orchids. They range from the devoutly traditional to the fiercely modern; they are homemakers, professionals and activists.

Secrets: Nudes From the Muslim World is a collection of nudes taken in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, UAE. The women pose behind a barrier that serves both as a metaphor for the ahbya and cultural differences. Together, the images express the process of seeing through superficial cultural barriers in search of the commonality between individuals of disparate cultures. At its core, the exhibition is a response to the global cry against religious fundamentalism and cultural conservatism; and confirmation that the call for gender equality, social justice and human rights is being heard.

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