Woman’s face veil (ru-band)
Unknown artist, Middle Eastern
Woman’s face veil (ru-band), 1800s
silk; plain weave, embroidered
Length: 61 cm (24 inches)
Gift of Elizabeth Bugbee 18.182
(December 19, 2008 – April 26, 2009)
This exhibition seeks to demonstrate that Islam embraces many types and combinations of garments that articulate haya, or principles of modesty and humility, and that these garments convey additional meaning outside of religion. However, most of the women’s garments on view, particularly those worn in urban contexts, would have been concealed beneath enveloping overgarments in public, so this meaning was often expressed privately.
Whether worn as head or face covering, one garment that is always visible is the veil. Established as a practice in the Mediterranean world well before the advent of Islam, the wearing of veils dates to ancient times and hails from varied cultural and religious contexts. Like the Afghan chaadaree in this gallery, the head scarf or face veil can help a woman accomplish hijab, or “sanctity, reserve, and privacy,” but it also communicates many other details about the wearer—from cultural origin to status to taste. Also like the chaadaree, it is praised by advocates as a demonstration of faith and castigated by critics as a sign of the repression of women.
In the swirl of debate regarding these issues, it might be useful to pause and consider the words of Rezia Wahid, whose ethereal contemporary head scarf is displayed here beside varied 19th- and 20th-century examples of face covers: “The textiles I weave are more than mere pieces of cloth; for me they represent the sanctity, beauty, and serenity of Islam along with nature and are the revival of cultural form and technique.” Whether worn by a 21st-century artist, an upper-class Egyptian woman, or a Middle Eastern Bedouin, the pieces on view here are individual forms of expression tied to specific experience and belief.