In 2016, a Latina graduate student Ana Carolina Antunes carried out a collective art project called The Hijab Project in a public high school in Utah. Antunes worked with Muslim girls from immigrant and refugee background. The girls “spoke back to assumptions made about them in and out of school” because of their hijab. These included: questions about whether they were going to kill the person sitting next to them, being asked if they “shower with the hijab”, “have hair under it” or “have cancer”.
They had repeatedly been singled out everywhere for wearing the hijab as emblems of Islam, as extreme religiosity. Antunes notes the irony that the school was in Utah, a state defined by its extreme religiosity as centre of the Mormon Church. The girls all had different cultural backgrounds but “people saw them all as one and the same”. In the backdrop was the 2016 Trump elections, a climate of heightened xenophobia.
Antunes writes that, “despite traditional framing of Muslim women as passive victims, through their artwork, the girls in this research group prove that religiosity and choice are not dichotomous”. The girls created hijabs with textile art on mannequins accompanied by an artist’s statement on what it meant to them. Their creations were exhibited at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, and initiated public conversation on their experiences, on their terms.