Sooraya Graham, an art student in Kamloops, British Columbia, has caused a stir with a picture she took of one of her friends that critics say offends members of the Muslim community. Originally submitted for an assignment at a class at Thompson River University, the photograph depicts a woman dressed in a full burka holding a bra up in front of her chest. It had been displayed alongside other student work until it was torn down by a yet-unidentified staff member.
Christopher Seguin, the vice president of advancement at the university, has so far sided with Graham, citing the student’s freedom of expression. “The university is committed to honoring artistic expression and on a campus with many international stakeholders it is important that we balance cultural sensitivity with freedom of speech,” he told CBC, “and we value the conversations that this piece of art and all our others inspire.”
Local resident and practicing Muslim Trad Bahabri disagrees, and has described it as an unwise choice of subject. “I’m pretty sure many people misinterpret and many people misunderstand it. I can guarantee that,” he told CBC. “The artist didn’t approach the artwork let’s say in a very professional way that can state and can clarify the information and clarify the idea behind the picture.” As president of the Saudi Education Centre in Kamloops, Bahabri spends much of his time working with Muslim students in the area and their families. Fewer than 2% of Canadians identify themselves as Muslim according to the 2001 census.
— Reid Singer