The most ubiquitous symbol in Western and European art depicting Arab and Muslim cultures is undoubtedly the veil. Images of veiled women, or conversely, women removing their veils, are found in countless paintings and photographs of the “Orient” and were frequently used to enhance the exoticism or seductiveness of images during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The practice of Western artists and scholars painting and researching the countries of the “Orient” (the Middle East and North Africa) became known as “Orientalism” and these paintings and photographs were categorized as “Orientalist.” In recent decades, a number of contemporary artists challenged the stereotypical images of the veiled woman as sexual or subjugated figures and have used veils and the practices of veiling in new, unexpected artistic creations.

A selection of some of the most famous images of women and veiling can be found in each section below, along with a set of questions for further discussion.