Global Conversations Beyond Discipline

Reflection on Faith, Fashion, Fusion: Muslim Women’s Style in Australia

Image by Ashh & Annas via Yasmeen on Pinterest

Faith, Fashion, Fusion: Muslim Women’s Style in Australia is an exhibition from Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum, curated by Glynis Jones. The exhibition explores the emergence of Australian Muslim women’s fashion design and seeks to challenge negative representations and responses. My review of the exhibition was initially published in reCollections: A Journal of Museums and Collections (Volume 9, Issue 1) in March 2014. The Omniloquence editorial team asked if I would mind if we reposted the review, given the ongoing relevance of the material the exhibition navigates. Instead, I’d like to take this moment to reflect on the exhibition again, as the political and social context has shifted dramatically since the exhibition was launched and the review published.

Every visitor to Powerhouse Museum, from 5 May 2012 until 14 July 2013, had to walk around or through Faith, Fashion, Fusion. The exhibition drew attention to Sydney fashion designers catering for a Muslim market and utilised interviews, storyboards, Sartorialist street style photography and selfies to explore identity and dress. The exhibition then travelled to the Immigration Museum in Melbourne, where it was modified to include Melbourne designers and content (October 2013 – June 2014). Faith, Fashion, Fusion is now touring regional galleries, and is currently on display at Wagga Wagga’s Museum of the Riverina. The exhibition will also travel to the Western Australian Museum (Geraldton, Albany Branch and Kalgoorlie-Boulder branches), Albury Library and to the Maitland Regional Art Gallery. It’s notable that by the time Faith, Fashion, Fusion returns home to Powerhouse, the selection on display will be thoroughly unfashionable. Styles have already changed significantly. According to bloggers, the voluminous tucked hijab seen in the exhibition has been transformed into a sleeker, draped silhouette, or sometimes tightly tied in a bow. Both trends are often matched with print or monochrome dresses.

It will be interesting to see how Faith, Fashion, Fusion is received by different regional galleries, particularly given the recent attacks on visibly Muslim women (following October’s counter-terrorism raids) and the intensification of debate regarding Muslim women’s dress practices in Australia. This began with Cory Bernardi’s renewed campaign to ‘ban the burqa’ from public spaces, it grew with Jacqie Lambie’s Facebook posts and her attempt to introduce a private members bill banning ‘identity concealing religious garments’. It seems to have culminated in the now reversed decision to segregate women wearing ‘head and facial coverings’ in parliament. Faith, Fashion, Fusion opened in Wagga Wagga on the 25 September, right in the middle of these events. In the local newspaper, The Daily Advertiser mentions that the curator ‘hopes it will shine some light on the religion.’ There’s a marked shift in the language used when discussing Faith, Fashion, Fusion, from 2012 to 2014, from focusing on design and personal fashion stories, to the role that such exhibitions have in countering stereotypes.

Faith, Fashion, Fusion documents the Australian context of a global movement that redefines what it means to appear ‘visibly Muslim’. This movement seems to refigure rather than merely respond to global fashion markets. At the moment, Muslim fashion seems to be defined by a sense of playfulness, attention to colour co-ordination, draping and design. It’s epitomised in photography by creative reinterpretations of the hijab, particularly by the elegant side and top knotted styles, paired with chunky jewellery. Although the look is propelled by young Muslim women, the aesthetic has been celebrated and adopted by non-Muslim celebrities and can be traced in many of the selfies posted as part of the Women in Solidarity with Hijabis (WISH) social media campaign. The campaign, started by lawyer and refugee advocate Mariam Veiszadeh, encourages women to post photos of themselves wearing a hijab to show solidarity for Muslim women. The campaign provides support at a moment of heightened tension and discrimination; however, such social media campaigns are limited in their ability to address systemic discrimination. The emergence of stylish Muslim fashions makes the structure of the WISH social media campaign possible. Things have changed a great deal since 2011, when author and celebrity cook, Nigella Lawson, was ridiculed for her adoption of the Burqini® at a Sydney beach. Curator, Glynis Jones, has been tracing the emergence of modest fashion since 2006, but it seems to have gained broader visual recognition beyond street style through online platforms, particularly via selfies and fashion blogs.

My review of Faith, Fashion, Fusion wasn’t about Muslim women’s dress practices; it was about the way the exhibition tip toed around aspects of identity politics. I argued that at the heart of the Faith, Fashion, Fusion lies an unresolvable tension: ‘The exhibition demonstrates that Muslim women’s dress practices are only one small aspect of Muslim women’s identity…. Problematically, the exhibition demonstrates these points via an exhibition about Muslim women’s dress.’ However, in the face of a renewed and momentarily successful (if limited) ‘ban the burqa’ campaign (where the central proponents remain startlingly uninformed regarding what a burqa is) my quibble with the exhibition’s structure seems insignificant. Instead, what remains is an uneasiness regarding the possibility of analysing the political and social contexts of ‘choice’ and ‘modesty’ in the face of intense negative public debate and violence. The actual use of the hijab, chador, abaya, niqab or burqa is a question for Muslim women to (re)negotiate and the dress presented by Faith, Fashion, Fusion is an example of how this process is happening in Australia. If you’re in Wagga Wagga, check it out.


Petra Mosmann is a PhD candidate at Flinders University. Although her current research focuses on Australian second wave feminist collection practices, she also has an ongoing interest in the relationships between dress, display and identity


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