She Who Tells a Story at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA)

What do you think when you see a women wearing a headscarf or a veil? Works by artist Boushra Almutawakel explore the perception of sartorial hijabs across Islamic and Western cultures. Discussion of the veil is a contentious topic—some Westerners believe all veiling is compulsory, and that women are forced to cover their faces, hair, and bodies; many Muslim women argue that wearing of the veil (be it a hijab, niqab, or burqa) represents devotion to their faith and that doing so is a choice.

In a series of nine photographs, entitled Mother, Daughter, Doll, Almutawakel, her daughter Shaden, and a doll dress in progressively more conservative forms of veiling, moving from street clothes and a colorful headscarf in the first image to a black, full-body niqab in the eighth. The ninth photograph contains only the empty, black backdrop against which the trio had posed, sardonically asking how far veiling can go. While there are pros and cons to wearing a veil, Almutawakel notes that veiling should not be synonymous with weakness or ignorance, and that strong, liberated women can choose to veil.

Middle Eastern artists, like Almutawakel, challenge Western viewpoints on the political and social dynamics at play in Iran and Arab nations using contemporary photography in She Who Tells a Story. Weaving tales through images instead of words, works of 12 notable female photographers are currently on display at the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA); more than 80 large-scale photographs are included in the exhibition and chronicle the artists’ notions of identity, protest, and war using portraiture, documentary photographs, and visual narratives.

Seen through the lenses of women embedded within Iranian and Arab culture, photographs included in this exhibition endeavors museum patrons to move beyond headlines surrounding the Middle East today and to engage in thoughtful discussions on life in a society that is different (or, at times, not so different) than what most Westerners know.

She Who Tells a Story will be on display at NMWA through July 31, 2016. Additional information about the exhibition can be found on the NMWA web site: NMWA urges visitors to share their opinions on She Who Tells a Story using the hashtag #SheWhoTellsAStory. Use of non-flash photography throughout the exhibition is encouraged.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts was incorporated as a private, non-profit museum in 1981, opening its doors to the public in its current location on New York Avenue in 1987; NMWA is the only museum in the world whose sole focus is on celebrating the accomplishments of female artists. The Junior League of Washington has been associated with NMWA since 1983; today, 22 women from the League serve as visitor experience volunteers, staffing the information desk, leading conversation-pieces discussions and tours, and supporting the Museum at a variety of events. Please contact NMWA committee chairwoman, Lori Vitelozzi, at with any questions about the committee.