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The Red Chador and 'the fabulousness of being a Muslim woman'

There's an exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park called "Hybrid Skin, Mythical Presence." It's a retrospective of the work of Tacoma-based, Cambodian American performance artist Anida Yoeu Ali.

One of the stars of the show, in addition to “The Buddhist Bug,” is the internationally known “Red Chador,” a being completely covered from head to toe. We'll have a chance to see her as she walks the streets of Seattle this weekend. KUOW’s Kim Malcolm met with Ali at SAAM to discuss her work.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Kim Malcolm: Tell me about The Red Chador and how she came to be.

Anida Yoeu Ali: I was given a commission to be in Paris in 2015. A lot of that informed me conceiving The Red Chador. It's the rise of Islamophobia, the rise of misogyny, It's also being in Paris and knowing that the burqa was banned. I wanted to occupy that space and confront the French public with that image.

The other thing I was thinking about is really joy, the celebration of joy and the vibrancy of women, Muslim women in particular, that I knew, that I grew up with, and that I'm surrounded with, that are not oppressed, that are not treated with fearful stereotypes. I was thinking about the question of, if an orthodox Muslim woman wanted to go to her prom, could she wear a fabulous outfit like a red sequined chador?

It's fully sequined. I just want to say you are completely leaning into the fabulousness there, and clearly that was a choice you made.

That was definitely a choice because when you think about evening gowns, and when you think about prom outfits, you clearly think of sequined garments. That was why I selected the red sequins, for the representation of red being life, and love, and blood, and lust, all these things that red reminds us of. But also it's the sparklingness, it's the shininess. How could you not smile when you're coming across this beautiful garment as the sunlight hits it in a certain way? She is sparkling, she is shiny, she is not somebody to fear. Let her have her moment. Let her have her dance.

As a Muslim woman, I am most definitely claiming joy. But I'm also claiming complexities, like complexity of being, complexity of existing. There are many people who don't even think of me as an Asian person as being from a Muslim country, or being Muslim for generations and generations. That's also a problem that I come across, which is whether or not I'm “Muslim enough.” I think that's a dangerous way of looking at identity and not seeing and not allowing Muslim people and Muslim women to have a complexity, almost pigeonholing us in a certain way. I'm resisting that.

You go to any congregational prayer, especially during Ramadan, and for Eid, and you see the most fabulous fashion show unfold in front of your eyes. Women go into the women's section of prayer to see all of those dazzling, fabulous, highly embroidered, ostentatious gowns that other Muslim women wear, specifically during Ramadan. And so, I am reminding all of us that we have this in all of our specific cultures. Even with the layers of Islam, we are always celebrating the colors and the textiles of our cultural specificity, through the garments and through the act of covering, and it is by choice, and we should celebrate in that moment of rejoicing in all of the colors and the splendidness and what I like to call the fabulousness of being a Muslim woman.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Anida Talks About The Buddhist Bug In Spiral Alley

Anida Talks About The Red Chador The Day After

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