National Galleries Scotland | International Women’s Day with Arpita Shah

From article by National Galleries Scotland 26/02/2021

The term Purdah (“to curtain”) varies in meaning amongst particular South Asian and Arab cultures. It can refer literally to a fabric used to cover something sacred but it is also used traditionally to signify the veiling, modesty and privacy of women.


NGS: Tell us more about this series and the meaning behind it.

Shah: These portraits attempt to shift the focus of from the physical to the spiritual act of drawing open and closing the sacred cloth that each sitter chooses to wear.

The work seeks to enrich our understanding of the practice of , and redress common misconceptions around the tradition of head covering and veiling, through representations of contemporary women from the Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities in Scotland who choose to practice its tradition.

The women in these portraits present a variety of cloths, which they wear day to day, during worship, or at particular religious occasions. Ranging from Sikh women in dastar and dupatta, to Hindu women in their sarees, Purdah also includes Muslim women wearing the niqababaya, and personal variations of the hijab.






















Image: Sari from the series Purdah, The Sacred Cloth

Listen to Shah in conversation with Anne Lyden, Chief Curator of Photography at the National Galleries of Scotland.