ABOUT FACE OF FREEDOM
"Faces of Freedom" project about identity, beauty, and inner faith which explores the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights :
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
Faces of Freedom photographic series, depicts 50 women from Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, France, Georgia, England and the United States – ranging from different cultural backgrounds and professions ,exploring their perception of identity in relation to freedom of choice.
Black and white `passport` photo, which portrays the women appearing first unveiled and then wearing a hijab, moving and intimate work, curated by Farah Pirieva, embraces the complexity of the issue of the veil, currently a hot topic of international debate and controversy.
"No one left my studio the same. Our conversations had a lasting effect on each of the ladies, as well as myself. The complexity of the process was amazing. Some of my models, experiencing this for the first time, cried and preferred not to wear a hijab at all, some responded exactly the opposite, telling me that they would consider wearing it one day, others who entered the studio wearing a hijab refused to take it off. "
" I left Baku when I was 22 years old. Left for France in 1989 and was separated from a city where my favourite monument was called the Freed Azeri Woman, a sculpture showing the first Azerbaijani woman taking off the hijab in 1920, celebrating women’s freedom of choice. At that time, nobody around me, even grandmothers, were covered anymore. An Azeri woman, who no longer wore the hijab, was seen as a symbol of the multicultural and multicoloured Soviet Baku, full of youngsters in miniskirts and “washed” jeans.
I returned 22 years later as a professional photographer and faced the city of Baku with its new chic life full of contrasts. I was reunited with my favourite old Freed Azeri Women, which was surrounded by plenty of young and beautiful ladies, wearing ...hijabs.
The liberty oriented Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan, probably the only country with the majority of the population being Muslims where hijabs are forbidden at schools; at the same time it is a place where you can find young charming girls wearing headscarves and hijabs around the city.
So, how should this be interpreted? I started to question it. I bought a hijab. When I saw myself wearing a hijab, something completely unexpected happened. Being a Western oriented woman, having an Azerbaijani and Georgian background, a Russian grandmother and two daughters in Paris, I suddenly started crying awkwardly and couldn’t stop it. I was shocked. My soul all of a sudden felt... secured. The hijab to my bewilderment made me feel unexpectedly confident. Being completely spellbound, I realised, what I found in wearing a hijab was a certain kind of protection I had always been searching for. I was no longer judged by my looks anymore.
All at once,I felt like a strong, self-assured woman, ready for heroic acts. And the biggest surprise was, I didn’t feel like taking my hijab off.
Questions started to appear and they never stopped:
- What the hell is going on? - How come I feel so amazingly free? - Where is Freedom? - How does it relate to the freedom I was alwaysstriving for? What is real freedom?
Staying in my native Baku for several months I assembled a number of volunteers, who were ready to participate in my search for answers. I must say it became one of the most exciting and moving projects I’ve ever worked on. I was lucky enough to meet a multitude of interesting personalities with a completely different approach to the subject of my research. The core of the project, besides my love for photography, became asking certain questions, which I proceeded to ask to these 50 women.
Most of them grew up like myself in Baku, whose life path crossed with my beloved city. Women of all nationalities, from Azerbaijan, France, Georgia, Russia, Iran, United Kingdom and United States, they all had something special and unexpected to say. Leading a completely different life than me, all of them came into my studio to talk about their attitudes towards Freedom. Being of different religions, different status, age, profession they were ready to share with my camera and I their personal experiences and intimate feelings.
And of course all of them were asked to wear the hijab. Wearing the hijab some looked more noble, others strange or even foreign. No one left my studio the same. Our conversations had a lasting effect on each of the ladies, as well as myself. It allowed me to raise a number of other personal issues, thoughts, secrets and questions. The complexity of the process was amazing.
Some of my models, experiencing this for the first time, cried and preferred not to wear a hijab at all, some responded exactly the opposite, telling me that they would consider wearing it one day, others who entered the studio wearing a hijab refused to take it off.
PS: All women signed an authorisation of use for my photographs within “Faces of Freedom”.
The freedom to wear a hijab and the freedom not to wear it.
The most important issue remains: It should be YOUR own choice.
It is YOUR freedom to be yourself. "