First Published: 2017-03-13

Vogue Arabia adds perspective on women’s 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 Hadid’s 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 Hadid’s 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-Haytham’s influence on Renaissance art but let’s 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 Arabia’s 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 it’s 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 Arabia’s 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 magazine’s 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.

It’s 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, Belting’s 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-Haytham’s 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 Arabia’s inaugural issue then. We see that cliché — 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

 

Erdogan urges world to recognise Jerusalem as Palestinian capital

Saudi, UAE seeks to help West Africa fight terrorism

US skeptical about Putin's declaration of military victory in Syria

Saudi King says determined to confront corruption

Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison

Saudi king says Palestinians have 'right' to Jerusalem

South Sudan needs $1.7 billion humanitarian aid in 2018

UAE oil giant floats 10 percent of retail arm to strong interest

Growing concern about rise of far-right in Austria

Israeli sentenced to four years for arson attack on church

Erdogan risks sabotaging fragile relations with Israel

6.2-magnitude earthquake strikes Iran

Two Gazans killed by Israeli ‘strike’, Israel denies claim

French FM accuses Iran of carving out ‘axis’ of influence

Somali journalist killed in front of children

Over 170 dead after South Sudan rival cattle herders clash

Russia begins partial withdrawal from Syria

Russia weary of returning IS jihadists before World Cup, election

EU accused of complicity in Libya migrant rights violations

Pentagon skeptical about Russia's Syria pullout claims

EU says Syria war ‘ongoing’ despite Russia pullout

Istanbul nightclub gunman refuses to testify

Integrating Syrians in Turkey carries implications

US opinion views Muslims and Arabs more favourably but political affiliation makes a difference

Iranian conservative protesters say Trump hastening end of Israel

Senior Saudi prince blasts Trump's "opportunistic" Jerusalem move

Kuwait ruler’s son named defence minister

Jordan referred to UN for failing to arrest Sudanese president

Turkey demands life for journalists in coup bid trial

Netanyahu expects EU to follow suit on Jerusalem

Putin orders withdrawal of ‘significant’ amount of troops from Syria

Putin to meet with Sisi in Cairo

GCC at a critical juncture

Houthi rebels tighten grip on Sanaa after Saleh’s assassination

Israel’s Syrian air strikes risk renewing escalation as Iran expands presence in Golan

Qatar to acquire 24 Typhoon fighters from UK

Bahraini civil society group criticised after Israel visit

Israel PM faces renewed pressure in Europe

Palestinian stabs Israeli guard in ‘terrorist’ attack

UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed says US Jerusalem decision could help terrorists

Fateh encourages more protests, refuses to meet Pence

Chinese electric carmaker to open Morocco factory

Iraqi victory over IS remains fragile