At first glance, Woman Behind Mashrabiya conjures the seemingly distant world of Old Cairo as captured in vintage photographs and Orientalist paintings. There the mashrabiya, or wooden window screen, not only circulated fresh air and filtered sunlight but also acted as a kind of architectural veil. Behind the mashrabiya, women could see without being seen, safe from prying eyes and whatever else might lay outside their windows. Here, largely obscured by the deeply cast shadows of the intricately carved window screen we see, barely, a woman in full hijab. The tensely structured tectonics of light and shadow give this photograph its strength but it is the image’s beguiling ambiguity and our own complex reactions to it that make it an exceptional work of art.
Born to Egyptian and German parents, Susan Hefuna spent part of her childhood in a small village in the Nile Delta. She went on to study painting and then photography in Germany. Her body of work—which has been exhibited widely in Europe, North America, Africa, and the Middle East—includes photography as well as sculpture, drawing, and video.
Komaroff, Linda. Islamic Art Now: Contemporary Art of the Middle East. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2015.
Komaroff, Linda. "Islamic Art Now and Then." In Islamic Art: Past, Present, Future, edited by Sheila Blair and Jonathan Bloom, 26-56. New Haven, New York, and London: Yale University Press, 2019.