Tomorrow is the last day of the exhibition Veils and Turbans at the French Institute's Dar Batha. It's a must see for anyone who appreciates design, texture, fabric and cultural history writes Natasha Christov.
Two words: dramatic and delicate. Michel Biehn’s latest exhibition, Veils and Turbans, unravels this seemingly dichotomous union within Islamic headdress and outerwear.
Soft, gauze-like fabrics in delicate cottons and silks drape from the 40-foot ceilings of the French Institute’s Dar Batha exhibition space, and the intricate designs and dye patterns transport visitors to a world of hidden identities, mysticism and exotic charm.
Featuring veils and turbans from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Morocco, Biehn’s exhibition celebrates Islamic dress by dissecting its layers to reveal the fine artistic detail. Here, whisper-thin veils fringed with colourful beadwork and complex embroidery hang like t-shirts on a washing line, hinting at the utilitarian nature of these pieces.
Each item in Biehn’s exhibition is an artwork, and many have been painstakingly stitched, then layered to provide – in some instances – total coverage. Biehn’s selection of veils and turbans also gives visitors an insight into countries’ cultural nuances: for example, the niqab exhibited from Afghanistan in a beautiful cornflower blue leaves nothing uncovered – only a wide lattice-like stitch allows the wearer to see. Conversely, the women’s outerwear on display from Pakistan is made up of several different pieces in bold colours and embroidered designs that meet around the eyes.
Kelly-green and burnt orange fabrics with striking patterns separate the veils from the turbans, as if protecting the original wearers’ modesties. Biehn explains that the veil “protects the mystery of a woman ... whereas the turban is worn very differently. It symbolises potency”.
Turbans, including the classic Berber headdress seen in Morocco’s Saharan regions, can reach beyond six meters of fabric. Mohammed Khrou, 23, of Rissani, explains that these turbans provide respite from the harsh conditions of the Sahara, acting “like air-conditioning for your head and protecting your eyes from sandstorms”. Other turbans on display at Biehn’s exhibition are more ceremonial, featuring a taqiyah detailed with geometric embroidery, with a long cotton scarf sweeping dramatically around the head.
Michel Biehn’s exhibition is enlightening, and showcases how different Islamic cultures combine the beautiful intricacies of their countries’ designs and traditions to create their veils and turbans.
Veils and Turbans is on display at the French Institute’s Dar Batha tomorrow from 10 AM to 5 PM. Info: http://www.institutfrancaisfes.com