Monday, November 01, 2010

Hussein Chalayan - Burka (1996)

Images from Hussein Chalayan's 'Burka' show in 1996 are probably some of the most thought provoking I have ever seen. Forevering crossing the thin line between art and fashion, and in particular exhibitions and fashion shows, Chalayan's work excelled with the concept for the 'Burka' show. Challenging ideas such as modesty, identity and feminity, Chalayan presented models wearing different length burka inspired creations with nothing underneath them, with some of the model's being completely naked except for a mask and sandals.

For me personally, this work challenges how one item of clothing can really hide someone's identity. The burka is one of the items of clothing that have arisen from different interpretations as to how muslim women should dress. However, many in the western world have seen it as a symbol of patriachal oppression, as by covering women's faces it reduces them to the same person. For me, Chalayan's work shows women to appear to be all the same with their faces covered, no matter the length of the mask. As their face cannot be distingushed, neither can they as a person. And does covering the face really change how sexual a woman appears, even when naked? This makes a comment as to whether or not women should be made to hide their faces for the sake of 'modesty' - for all the Qu'ran outlines is that women should dress in a modest fashion.

No matter what your personal opinion is on the burka or any other form of veiling in the Islamic community, it must be admitted that Chalayan's work remains relevant fourteen years on, as citizens and politicians alike debate as to whether or not it is a woman's right to veil, or if she is forced into it. This ability to stay relevant to society this many years on is what I believe makes Chalayan's work stand out above many other designers - instead of just creating clothes, he creates ideas and works of art. Fashion is a medium so powerful that pretty much everyone can access it in some way and so to use it to challenge and question such a controversial topic is both brave and liberating of Chalayan. Long live fashion as art.


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