It’s not always recognised that there are huge differences in the way Islamic women dress, particularly in Australia where there’s a great deal of cultural diversity.
An Australian exhibition is choosing to celebrate that diversity by showcasing Muslim designers and their work.
One of the exhibition’s curators, Tasneem Chopra, told Asia Pacific it aims to overcome a range of stereotypes.
“Often people see the scarf and not the person .. So what this exhibition does, is it certainly uses fashion as a hook to get people in, because the fashions are beautiful, they’re glamorous, they’re colourful. They’re very contemporary, but modest at the same time”, Ms Chopra said.
Faith and fashion
The exhibition is called “Faith, Fashion, Fusion: Muslim women’s style in Australia”.
It was first developed by Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum and is also at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum.
Ms Chopra says the exhibition is about more than fashion.
“Once they’re in, they actually see another whole dimension to the exhibition which is .. women who’ve achieved spectacular things in their own right”.
“We have poets, academics, writers, sports stars, a marathon runner, a Masterchef contestant. We have a gamut of women portrayed, all of whom are Muslim, some of whom may look Muslim, others not necessarily. And that’s the whole point”, Ms Chopra said.
Freedom to choose
It’s not just the fact that Australian Muslims come from many different countries and cultures that makes the Australian context unique.
It’s also the changes in style that Australian Muslim women and designers, many of whom were born in Australia, have chosen to adopt.
“It is a democratic country here. We have the freedom of choice to express our views, our dress code, that other countries don’t”, Ms Chopra said.
“I think where laws exist that .. impose a dress code, there are prohibitive laws, where headscarves are banned or where headscarves are imposed. I think that takes away from the human rights of women across the world – be it Saudi Arabia, be it Turkey, be it France, be it Belgium,” she said.
The most controversial Islamic headwear is the niqab and burqa which cover most or all of the head and face.
Ms Chopra says both get a disproportionate amount of attention in Western countries, given that hardly any women wear them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman in a burqa in Australia that’s covering of the entire face. I’ve seen women wear the niqab .. the numbers are so miniscule”, she said.
Ms Chopra says the exhibition shows the creativity of designers and their skills in adapting a wide range of styles to outfits that will appeal to Islamic women.
“As one of our designers says .. she sees an amazing outfit, she really wants to wear it and the first thing she thinks of is, “How can I hijabify that?””.
The exhibition will run at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum until June next year.
Categories: Europe and Australia