Muslim fashion for women shown in San Francisco sews controversy in Germany

San Francisco is an American fashion trendsetter for the World. It all started with Levi Strauss & Co. in 1850 right here in the City by the Bay.

Deutsche Welle 4.3.2019

First shown in San Francisco, an exhibition taking a look at Islamic fashion has provoked strong reactions ahead of its opening in Frankfurt. “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” confronts stereotypes on both Islam and style.

Muslim head coverings have always been a controversial topic, as they embody so many issues, whether women’s rights worldwide or Western prejudice and discrimination against Muslims.

Now that the first exhibition dedicated to fashion consciousness of women in Islam is opening at Frankfurt’s Museum Angwandte Kunst, the debate surrounding headscarves has been rekindled in Germany.

Muslim Fashion II DW 4.3.2019.jpg

Titled “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” and first shown at the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco, the exhibition, however, does not aim to answer the numerous political and social questions related to hijabs or burkinis.

“The focus of the exhibition is really fashionable modest dress and what we’re trying to show in the exhibition is that there is a lot of choice for the mass of Muslim women,” said Jill D’Alessandro, curator of the “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” exhibition in San Francisco.

The idea for the exhibition came from Austrian museum director Max Hollein, who formerly headed the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art and, before that, served as the director of the Städel Museum in Frankfurt am Main. Planning began in 2016, shortly before Donald Trump was elected US president. The show was held in the US during a period when anti-Islamic attitudes were becoming increasingly visible and voiced in America.

A similar polarization of attitudes is noticeable in Germany today, and all questions related to the integration of refugees remain a headline-grabbing topic.

But “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” does not want to be seen as a reaction to this. “We don’t want to solve problems, but to offer new perspectives on a very exciting part of the fashion world that has long been ignored by the Western world,” says curator D’Alessandro.

Hate mail leads to tightened security

The coordinators of the German exhibition have already started receiving racist hate mail ahead of the opening of the exhibition on Thursday, which is why the Angwandte Kunst museum is introducing bag checks and body searches for the duration of the show, “for the security of all visitors and employees,” museum director Matthias Wagner K told German press agency DPA.

On the other end of the spectrum, weeks ahead of the show, activists who call themselves “Migrants for secularity and self-determination” have published an open letter in German feminist magazine Emma, in which they state that they are “appalled” by the fact that the exhibition is being shown in Frankfurt.

“This exhibition, which supposedly depicts religious dress requirements as fashion, is a slap in the face of domestic and foreign women’s rights activists,” the letter states. The group, composed of Iranian refugees, also reminds people that “Every year, thousands of women in Iran are punished for violating this dress code.”

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