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Art Student's Work Disappears In Cultural"mixup"


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If art is about generating discussion and debate, Sooraya Graham has succeeded far more than she thought she would with a simple photograph.The Thompson Rivers University art student was fulfilling a class assignment when she took a photograph of a niqab-wearing friend folding her laundry.It was a moment many people don't think about — a woman dressed head to toe in black, only showing her eyes, holding up a flowered bra before putting it away.The class assignment was to take a photo and turn it into a mural print. Graham did that. And about two weeks ago, her image was put up on the wall of the Old Main building where the arts students usually display their works.A week ago, Graham discovered the mural was gone. After some asking around, she was told an international student advisor from TRU World had it removed."In the picture, my friend is holding a bra, doing her laundry. It's a veiled woman in her bedroom holding a bra folding laundry," she said."It was to capture a moment."Graham is from Northern B.C., and she's a niqab-wearing Muslim. She wondered if the objectors felt the picture was taken by someone from outside the religion."I guess they didn't understand where I was coming from. Maybe they thought I was mocking a Middle Eastern woman. That wasn't my point. I'm all for human rights and equality and freedom of religion and for women who want to wear the veil out of their own choice," said"It was to humanize a veiled woman. I'm Canadian, I wear the niqab. . . . . I was trying to break the stereotype of us being oppressed women."When she finally got her mural returned to her this week, it was had some rips in it from being taken down.Graham's assistant visual arts professor, Ernie Kroeger, said Friday she's a thoughtful, careful student."I understand there were some students who were upset with this photograph," he said.He wasn't told about the removal beforehand. The only other times student works have disappeared from the Old Main walls, they were stolen, he said."I find it very strange that without really asking anyone, they would take the photograph down."That said, Kroeger is hoping to see something positive come out of the incident."I think there's enough ideas here to have a little meeting about it, perhaps, with these people," he said."There are cultural sensitivities, but there are also freedoms and rights. I would be interested to hear the reason for it. We actually learned something from this."TRU vice-president advancement Christopher Seguin said the employee who removed the mural was acting on her own."This is a case of cultural sensitivity meets artistic expression meets miscommunication," he said."In no way did TRU remove the piece of art."The artwork was immediately returned to the department when university administration found out what occurred, he said. TRU will also pay the cost of repairs."This stuff will crop up," but the university is sensitive in dealing with such issues as quickly and carefully as possible, Seguin said."The bottom line is it was a staff member acting on their own personal situation," he said."We have no comment or idea at this point about any disciplinary action. We're still gathering information."Graham said the damaged mural will be making a reappearance, at the TRU art gallery for the students' year-end show."One of the faculty asked me to put it back up in the art gallery. It is damaged, still, but he felt it was more powerful than a new one," she said."I wasn't doing it to cause controversy, I was merely trying to help the cause in trying to demystify the Arab woman. It's really sad this is the way it had to go."
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