An exhibition devoted to one of the most important social and historical icons of the UAE – the Emirati Burqa - opened last week at Sharjah Heritage Museum.
The show titled ‘The Emirati Burqa: An Intimate Object’, features photographs, films, paintings and installations by Sharjah-born Karima Alshomely.
Alshomely adopts a contemporary perspective towards an item that has been part of Emirati cultural identity for hundreds of years.
Running until June 2018, the exhibition of photographs, films, paintings and installations presents the artist’s personal memories and relationship with the burqa, as well as her interpretation of its history and concept.
The collection is seen as vital in preserving Emirati heritage, while encouraging visitors to take an alternative viewpoint to an item that was once part of traditional everyday dress.
Manal Ataya, Director General of Sharjah Museums Authority, said: “As an object that is deeply personal to each individual wearer, it is appropriate that the collection is characterized by Karima’s own relationship and viewpoint towards the burqa.
“We are confident that visitors will not regard the burqa in the same way again, whether they develop a better understanding of its history and the materials used in its design or in the reaffirmation of its important place in Emirati society.”
The burqa was once considered an item of traditional everyday dress for the majority of Emirati women until around the late 1960s. Changes within Emirati society have led to fewer women wearing the burqa and it is now rarely seen as an everyday item of clothing.
The Emirati burqa has taken on a heritage role and is worn for official occasions and ceremonies, becoming one of the most important heritage icons of the Emirates.
The intimacy of the exhibition refers in part to Karima Alshomely’s childhood memories of being fascinated by her grandmother’s burqa. Many pieces within the collection reveal her personal relationship with the burqa. In one example, a photograph of a burqa partially submerged in sand on a beach is revealed to represent her views on the increasing disappearance of the item in Emirati life.
Alshomely, whose prints, photographs and installations have featured in exhibitions throughout the world, said: “I perceive the burqa to be an intimate object. As a material object, an item of dress, an accessory or a marker of status, the burqa can be seen as a thing in the world that exists outside of the individual subject. Yet, as this artwork shows, the burqa has been part of Emirati women’s social and cultural identity and it is also deeply personal to each individual woman.”
The highly diverse collections use multiple forms of artistic and visual media to present themes including burqa materials and construction, various burqa wearing practices, the loss and recovery of the burqa, and even the typical smells associated with the burqa.
Karima Alshomely earned a BFA at the University of Sharjah and a MFA at University of the Arts London, Chelsea College of Arts and Design. She has completed a PhD in Fine Arts at Kingston University, London.
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