A Turkish Photographer’s Tribute to the Girls of Quranic Schools

In Turkey, a long-held ban on veiling in state institutions was lifted only a decade ago. As a teen-ager, Çimen postponed her own college plans to avoid having to unveil. (Later, she earned an undergraduate degree in trade and finance, followed by a graduate degree in cultural studies.) In the hermetic world of “Hafiz,” few shots acknowledge the spectre of Westernization outright. One exception is a photograph of illustrated clippings on a classroom wall, with red “X” marks stuck beneath those featuring women in insufficiently modest attire.

For many of Çimen’s subjects, the hijab comes to resemble any ordinary school uniform, no more limiting than a collared shirt or a plaid skirt. For others, though, the garment suggests a brusque induction into the realities of adulthood. Throughout “Hafiz,” Çimen dramatizes the girls’ journeys from innocence to experience with the fanciful use of gatefold pages. The most haunting sequence shows a sacrificial animal photographed up close, with matted fur and a glassy eye, followed by a shot of a bloodied stone. In the book, these images are hidden on the flip sides of pages that portray an eight-year-old, Elif, on her first day of school. On the left, she has been photographed with no scarf, standing in sparse brush before an outdoor mural and looking about as stunned as the creature on the page behind her. On the right, closing the second gatefold reveals Elif in the same spot, now veiled and, but for her patterned dress, unrecognizable. The beast has been killed, the brush has grown wild, and Elif strides out of the frame with her eyes cast down, carrying her Quran.

Elif, eight, on her first day of Quranic school in Rize, in 2018.

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