Portraits celebrate London’s stylish hijab wearers

Leopard print with attitude, covered in flowers and bows, or sleek black with gold chains. Sara Shamsavari's street-style portraits capture young women in veils of a dizzying array of colours and fashions. The Iranian-born photographer was inspired to create the pictures, exhibited to coincide with International Women's Day, to celebrate how the head coverings had led to an outpouring of creativity and originality in the way they are worn.

Shamsavari visited different areas of London to take 100 images, 50 of which will go on display in the Royal Festival Hall in London. "They were all people I saw while out walking, so the project had that element of excitement about it," she says.

"I didn't know who I would see, and then I would find myself chasing down the street after someone. In Marble Arch, there is this fashion for looking as expensive as you can, whereas in Whitechapel it was all about creativity – the young women may not have been wearing designer clothes but they had an attitude of 'we know how to put it together'."

Shamsavari says she wanted to steer clear of the debate surrounding the hijab, and instead focus on her subjects' individuality.

Appreciation of style
"I am neither for nor against the veil – I just think nothing should be imposed through force," she explains. "None of the Iranians I know in the UK wear the veil, and most rebuke it. But looking at these young women, I thought they must be dealing so much with just being young, women and visibly Muslim, yet there is this beauty and vibrancy in them which really shines through."

The parade of different fashions for tying headscarves – and the range of ethnicities of the subjects – emphasise this uniqueness. Shamsavari hopes the audience will connect with her subjects through an appreciation of their style.

The project, she admits, was inspired by her own experience growing up in London in the 1980s and 1990s. With her blue eyes and fair skin, Shamsavari's Iranian background meant she became accustomed to name calling. Yet this prejudice only fed her desire to focus on what she calls "uncelebrated communities" in her work.

"With all depictions of ethnic minorities there is too much negativity and too many cliches and stereotypes. I wanted to do something that was the opposite." – Guardian News and Media 2013

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