Quran, Grand Mosque of Paris
French secularism has fascinated me since the controversial 2004 law banning religious markers in public schools. I was raised in a secular household, yet was a fervent supporter of the freedom of religion, having been born in a country built upon that ideal. Nothing about it made any sense to me.
My study of French colonialism, the 2013 Boston bombings, my close friendships with religious classmates, my yearlong sejour in Paris — everything eventually bought me closer to understanding and to this photodocumentary project, which felt almost inevitable at times. This project was the beginning of my anthropology senior thesis on laïcité and also the first time I've shot anything like this. It also saved me in a lot of ways. Made the summer bearable post-breakup, gave my life direction when I returned to Hamilton.
This project was shot on 35mm film the summer of 2014 in Paris and the surrounding areas. Here's a cool article Hamilton wrote about me.
Laïcité is the French tradition of secularism that has defined the political landscape for the past century. It exists as a measure to protect the rights of French citizens and preserve the ideals of liberté, egalité, fraternité that France lives by. This tradition has existed in the predominantly Catholic country for nearly a century without much conflict, but the France of today is a vastly different nation than it once was. France is a multicultural nation-state that is home to millions, including the French-born sons and daughters of immigrants hailing from the former North African colonies. Islam is also on the rise, growing to become the second largest religion in France. This dramatic demographic change has destabilized the long-standing Catholic identity of France. This insecurity has changed how laïcité has been invoked within the past decade, contributing to many of the current controversies surrounding Islam in France.
As a second generation Taiwanese immigrant, I am interested in exploring issues of identity as they relate to multiethnic individuals. This project seeks to examine how religion factors into that. “Behind the Veil” is a visual exploration of how French Muslims construct their identity in the face of secularism. I focused on the stories of four young French citizens—Rachid, Assa, Anfal, and Nadim—to create a narrative that attempts to destabilize the monolithic image of Muslims that dominate mass media. The media has appropriated their image and I wanted to use photography to allow them to represent themselves in the way that they wanted to be seen, in order to reclaim their image. The series also became a study of spaces, examining how spaces in and around Paris can serve to explain history and represent the root causes of inequality and perceived failures in integration. The spaces not only highlight the state failures and self-segregation that perpetuate disparity, but they also act as channels through which individuals reaffirm their identities.