A recent trip to de Young museum in San Francisco transformed a rainy, blustery day into a multi-sense journey back to the Middle East.
Our friends had invited us to join them at the Gauguin exhibit. But when we arrived at the museum, the outside of the building announced another exhibit that caught my attention, and my breath: Contemporary Muslim Fashions. https://deyoung.famsf.org/exhibitions/contemporary-muslim-fashions
I lived in Abu Dhabi, UAE from 2011 through 2014, and one of the most enduring impressions it made upon me was how the people dressed, particularly the Muslim women. “Covering,” as modest dressing is known, was a topic that I and the other Western expat women I knew pondered, discussed, questioned, speculated about and, above all, came to respect. At times, we longed to emulate it. The elegance. The beautiful cloth, with its unexpected patterns. The graceful swish, the languid drape.
For an extra $5 I could see both exhibitions. With time to spare after Gauguin, I stood in line to upgrade my ticket. Our friends were wandering elsewhere in the museum, my husband opted to wait for them in the lobby and look at his smartphone, and I RELISHED the opportunity to view the exhibit ALONE, just me and my thoughts.
I can’t describe the feeling I had as I entered and went through the exhibit, except to say that it reawakened the feeling of wonder and beauty I had as I discovered traditional Muslim dress, which seemed to be modernizing and evolving. This exhibit is proof that what I saw hinted at, back then, has come to fruition. Nearly every one of these designs dates to 2017 or 2018 – in other words, in the years since I left the UAE. But we all saw it coming.
The next time you see a woman wearing hijab, or in a modest dress ensemble, take a moment to appreciate and respect her personal choice. It’s a choice that we all make, consciously or not. And if you ever have the opportunity to see a Contemporary Muslim Fashion exhibit, go!