In April of last year, the French government outlawed the burqa in public places, causing an outcry among those that deemed the legislation anti-Muslim. Thai photographer Ampannee Satoh grappled with the issue in her first solo exhibition, Burqa.

Tell us about your previous work. What subjects concern you?
As I was born in Pattani where there is a lot of political and social instability, I wanted to deliver a point of view that people can’t get from the news. My first exhibition focused on the Por Noh (local Islamic schools) which have been thought to be a place of militant training. The conflict in the South is still going on and there are so many points to clarify. My other work deals with women’s rights, as it’s tough to be a woman in that area.

How did you conceive of this new exhibition?
When I was studying at the Ecole Nationale Superieure de la Photographie in Arles, the French government banned the burqa. But to me, wearing a burqa is a matter of belief, and nobody has the right to judge it. So, I ordered some burqas from my hometown in Pattani and took photos in public places. I did self-portraits as this exhibition represents a personal view. I looked for locations to shoot at, and of course, the Eiffel Tower was the best one. When you look at the photo, the movement of the burqa in the wind explains it all.

As a Muslim, do you normally wear a burqa?
Never. My parents gave me the right to choose what I wanted. I started wearing the hijab [a headscarf without the veil]. I have some concerns about women’s rights. It’s true that people perceive that Muslim women as forced by the religion to wear the burqa but actually we just simply do it from belief.

From your perspective, how could the French law affect society?
When I was in France, none of my French friends looked down on women wearing a burqa, and all of them felt outraged by the law. There are a lot of Muslims all over the world and passing a law like this is obviously opposing us. For a long time, Muslims have been perceived negatively, and this law just strengthens that perception.

Do you think the law could make the new generation lose their faith?
The belief of kids depends directly on how they are raised, what their family looks like and in which community they live. But if they have the right to understand their religion, this law can’t affect them.

What’s next?
I want to show my exhibition in France—if immigration doesn’t kick me out.

Keeping up with  Ampannee Satoh at Burqa


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