By Ralph Orlowski
It was a cold and blustery winter morning when I arrived at the warm and cozy gallery rooms of the Hesse Nassau Art Club in Wiesbaden to take pictures of the exhibition "Bourquoi". This was to be my third attempt to take photographs of viewers at the show. So far I had not been successful at finding any willing visitors. I wondered whether this could be because of the compulsory dress code. The title of the exhibition "Bourquoi" by Turkish-German artist Naneci Yurdaguel is a play on the two words ‘pourqui' -- the French word for 'why' – and “Burka”.
I took off my big awkward padded winter coat only to be handed an equally, if not more, awkward “Burka” by the gallery assistant. I was told the only way to photograph or view the exhibition was while wearing it. No exceptions – not for male visitors or even for journalists.
Finally two visitors arrived – a man and a woman who were also willing to pull over an original Kabul burka. The organizers of the exhibition had flown in about a dozen original blue Burkas from the Afghan capital. I expected the visitors to be giggling and laughing when they changed to fulfill the dress code. But everyone was surprisingly extremely quiet and respectful.
My initial thought was to photograph the visitors all the time through the eye-grid of the burka. This turned out to be more difficult than expected. I simply did not have enough space to fit the camera underneath. I could not look through the viewfinder. I must have looked pretty clumsy trying to focus my camera. Thank goodness for the camera's auto-focus.
Despite not being as heavy as I expected, the 100% polyester garment proved to be quite claustrophobic. I found breathing pretty difficult and I could not see where I was stepping. One has to look down all the time not to fall over one’s own feet.