An art exhibit in Hattiesburg, Mississippi called “Breaking the Veils: Women Artists of the Islamic World,” hopes to break stereotypes of women in the Muslim world.  The exhibit features work by 52 women from 21 countries.

The two-month event combines town and gown, partnering the University of Southern Mississippi’s College of Arts and Letters, City of Hattiesburg and Hattiesburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

As its name suggests, the exhibit seeks to counter an image of women in the Islamic world as cloistered and voiceless. Mark Rigsby, Southern Miss Museum of Art assistant director and exhibit curator, said visitors will see self-taught and formally educated artists, expressing themselves in a rich assortment of media, including painting, drawings and photography.

Sayre, an assistant professor in the International Development program who has studied Middle Eastern economics extensively, played a central role in bringing the exhibit to the university.

Sayre states that the diversity of artwork may surprise viewers accustomed to other visual representations of the Islamic world.

“We may think we have an understanding of the Islamic world through images we see on CNN, but by taking those images as a uniform picture, we are actually stereotyping and misunderstanding.”

One common misunderstanding, he said “is that there is a lack of freedom in the Islamic world; that women have a uniformly sheltered existence. While that describes the experience of some – for instance the Taliban in Afghanistan which has some of the severest restrictions on forms of expression – it doesn’t apply to, say, Tunisia, where women outnumber men in universities seven to five.”

Sayre believes the exhibit will help people gain a deeper understanding of women’s diverse and complex lives in an Islamic world that ranges from Morocco in the west to Indonesia in the east.

“By observing their rich forms of artistic expression, we get a sense of their breadth of their experiences,” he said.

To read more about the exhibit, participants and the overall experience of those who attended, click here.