First Published: 2017-03-13

Vogue Arabia adds perspective on womens veil
Inaugural cover of Vogue Arabia edited by Saudi Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz challenges readers, observers to reorient perceptions.
Middle East Online

By Rashmee Roshan Lall - LONDON

Saudi Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz

The launch of Vogue Arabia would have been just another sashay down the international publishing catwalk for the 125-year-old Vogue brand had it not been for the cover.

Or, to be more specific, the words on the cover. It reads reorienting perceptions while the luminous face of Gigi Hadid, an American model of Palestinian and Dutch ethnicity, stares obliquely out at the world.

A filmy, sequined length of fabric covers Hadids head, runs down part of her face and obscures her neck and part of one shoulder. Her left eye is bared through an irregularly cut hole in the garment. The other eye and right half of Hadids face is unclothed.

In every way, the inaugural cover of Vogue Arabia challenges readers (and observers) to reorient perceptions. In so doing, it is bringing the concept of perspective to the region where it was born 1,100 years ago.

The theory of perspective, which changed the course of Western art, was formulated in Baghdad by the 11th-century mathematician Ibn al-Haytham, whose name was Latinised to Alhazen. Or at least that is the view of the experts, not least Hans Belting, professor of art history at the Academy for Design in Karlsruhe, Germany.

We will get to al-Haythams influence on Renaissance art but lets consider the perceptions that Vogue Arabia may be seeking to reorient.

First, the paradox of the title. It is Vogue, a high-fashion magazine that, some would say, puts women on show. And it is in Arabia, a region where, others would say, women are hidden away.

Second, the perspective of the veil. Vogue Arabias Special Projects Director Mohieb Dahabieh, a Syrian who divides his time between Paris and London, puts it rather well: The veil toys with the notions of paradoxical perception and ushers Gigi to a bygone mystical era So beautiful, yet as the burqa debate continues to surface in Europe so controversial. To some its the rejection of women objectified, to others the reverse.

In this context, it is worth noting that the sportswear brand Nike has announced that it is manufacturing the Pro Hijab, a performance head covering made of a breathable, light, stretchy fabric that will not come untucked no matter what Olympic-level activity is done by the athlete.

What this really means is that in the future, a hijab-wearing woman cannot automatically be perceived as an inactive stay-at-home sort. She could be a budding (or actual) Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American-Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympics wearing a hijab.

Finally, there is the perspective of culture. Is Hadid, with her hair obscured, less or more of a person than the woman who appeared practically nude on the cover of Vogue Paris a year ago?

In some ways, Vogue Arabias outspoken editor, a Saudi commoner married to a direct descendant of King Abdulaziz, exemplifies the multiple contradictions between Vogue and Saudi Arabia, between a culture of concealment and the catwalk, between royalty peddling the mass consumption of fashion.

The editor, Princess Deena Aljuhani Abdulaziz, said she sees her magazines role as limited but important. In response to a question from The Times of London about whether Vogue Arabia is meant to be emancipatory for a young woman reading it, Abdulaziz said she hoped it would make this young girl feel that she has a voice. She meant in terms of self-expression through fashion, which may be trivial to some but does still betoken the creative instinct.

Its all about perspective as al-Haytham laid out in his Kitab al-Manazir or Book of Optics, which was known by the title of its Latin translation, Perspectiva.

What al-Haytham did was revolutionary in terms of seeing and ways of seeing. In Florence and Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science, Beltings remarkable book on the subject, the professor explains it as follows: Arab visual theory gave a predominant role to light, which is essentially an iconic and relegated picture to the realm of the mind exclusively. Al-Haythams studies and the theory he formulated laid the foundations for the model of linear perspective in the Renaissance. By doing away with all anthropomorphic notions from the visual process, he demonstrated that light governed the cosmos and the way we see.

Back to Vogue Arabias inaugural issue then. We see that clich a model on the cover of a fashion magazine and perceive it as somehow different because of its covered head and intended readership.

Time to reorient perceptions?

Rashmee Roshan Lall is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly. She blogs at www.rashmee.com and is on Twitter @rashmeerl

Copyright 2017 The Arab Weekly

 

Russia mulls supplying S-300 missile systems to Syria

Bashir fires Sudan foreign minister

Washington: Assad still has 'limited' chemical capability

US has 'concerns' about Turkey holding fair vote under state of emergency

Saudi women embrace sports headscarves

European MPs urge US not to scrap Iran deal

Oil price soars to highest level in years

Two more pro-Kurdish MPs stripped of Turkey seats

Oil theft 'costing Libya over $750 million annually'

Turkey's snap polls: bold gambit or checkmate for Erdogan?

Iran arrests senior official over public concert

Bahrain sentences 24 to jail, strips citizenship

UN experts urge Iran to cancel Kurd's death sentence

Moderate quake strikes near Iran nuclear power plant

Syria regime forces caught in surprise IS attack

Turkey sentences 18 to life for killing ‘hero’ coup soldier

Exxon faces setback in Iraq as oil and water mix

Libya to clamp down on fuel smuggling

Yemen to arrest colonel for overlooking African migrant rape

Erdogan sends Turkey to snap polls on June 24

Qatar joins Gulf military exercise in apparent compromise

Saudi-Russia oil alliance likely to undercut OPEC

UN in security talks with Syria on chemical probe

Riyadh says two al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen

Record of women candidates in Lebanon, but you can't tell from TV

Sudan protests to UN over Egypt voting in disputed area

Erdogan calls Turkey snap polls for June 24

Rights watchdog say African migrants face rape, torture in Yemen

Nine years since last vote, Lebanon in election fever

Israeli fire neat Gaza border injures five Palestinian

Egypt army says killed jihadist leader in Sinai

Iraq sentences over 300 people to death for IS links

Syria chemical weapons visit delayed after gunfire

Syria regime shells last jihadist pockets in Damascus

After the war is won, ‘we shall not return’ to Mosul

Saudi Arabia to host cinema test screening with 'Black Panther'

Trump voices support for US pastor jailed in Turkey

Rouhani says Iran will make or buy any weapons it needs

US fears ceding influence to Russia, Iran in Syria

Nationalist Erdogan ally calls for snap Turkey elections

Saudi renews offer to deploy troops to Syria

Kaveh Madani, Iran’s expat eco-warrior who was on too many fronts

UN to launch new Yemen plan to restart negotiations

Russia dismisses West's 'untimely' push on Syria

Turkey, Iran to press on with Russia alliance on Syria