The most outrageous and exuberant lingerie in the world comes from a place you’d probably never expect: Syria. Adorned with everything from faux fur, artificial flowers, and feathered birds to plastic toy cell phones, these intimates flash lights, play music, even vibrate. Well known across the Middle East—in Syria the lingerie forms an important part of the folk tradition around trousseaus and weddings—it is openly displayed in the markets and souks.
This is the Chronicle Books summary of the September release of Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design.
Authors Malu Halasa and Rana Salam have brought together a diverse and dramatic collection of photography and writing, including the voices of Syrian women, celebrating this fabulous subculture in Syria. One of the co-authors of the book, Malu Halasa, has this to say about pulling the veil back on Muslim culture:
However a more insidious problem exists. Books on the Arab and Iranian street, showcasing authenticity, are almost impossible to get published. Take as an example Syria’s racy lingerie culture. Manufactured by conservative religious Sunni families for a conservative religious clientele, it goes against the widespread Western belief that because of the veil or hijab, Islam is puritanical and sexless. After months of discussion, its current publisher narrowed the focus of the book and rejected photographs of the first Muslim woman modelling the country’s cotton lingerie – used as advertising images in lingerie stores all over Syria – because editors there feared a backlash. Wishful thinking or stupidity?
Malu participated in the Symposium on Arabic Visual Culture held in Amsterdam in August.
Photos by Omar al-Moutem.
Another artist is looking at lingerie in the Arab world.
Ayah Bdeir is an artist, engineer and interaction designer. She graduated from the MIT Media Lab with a Masters of Media Arts and Sciences after studying Computer & Communication Engineering and Sociology in the American University of Beirut. With an upbringing between Lebanon, Canada and the United States, Bdeir’s work uses technology to look at cross cultural dialogue and media representation of the Middle East and its identities. Her work spans a range of mediums including interactive installations, electronic fashion, and gadgets.
A project from earlier in 2008 is Teta Haniya’s Secrets. After decades of running her kinky Syrian lingerie store in Damascus, Teta comes to America bearing gifts. The gifts are knickers interpreted by Ayah Bdeir.
See the website or the Flickr photos from the event.
Can these efforts help Western cultures change their views about Arab culture? The Financial Times has this to say:
The contradiction of a prim public face and behind-closed-doors bawdiness is not unique to Syria. From lewd wedding songs in Casablanca to dirty jokes at women-only get-togethers in Cairo, in private the Arab world is anything but prudish. Across the region, public and private behaviour are caught up in a tangled web of tradition, religious conservatism and social change. Lingerie may not be an obvious vehicle for deconstructing such complexity, but The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie is sociology by stealth.
Images from Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie.