MSLM: An exhibition and publication or magazine (hopefully the latter) that started off last friday. Dealing with fashion for and by Muslim women, the organisation succeeds at emancipation and positive image-building of Muslim women. However, they face a couple of possible pitfalls as well.
First of all: at last an exhibition at artists’-run space Mama that is worthwhile and takes up a subject that truly matters. After the gradual departure of its founding members, one of the most unique and innovative art spaces in Rotterdam slowly turned bleach by piling up one pointless exhibition after the other. MSLM takes up Mamas’ former street credibility and sense of momentum and adds a portion of biting political relevance.
In the public debate the headscarf that Muslim women wear has turned into a symbol of suppression of women and Islam fundamentalism. MLSM magazine and the accompanying exhibition strongly and very convincingly create an opposite image: that of a young Muslim woman who is self-confident and self-determined; who self-consciously puts on her headscarf and proudly wears it as both fashion item or accessory, and as signifier of her identity. MSLM proves the headscarf is mysterious, concealing, fashionable, seducing and very female, furthermore, it makes the user stand out as an individual.
Nonetheless, the organisers face some complicated issues. Despite the fact that the entire editorial team is comprised of young, female Muslims, the editor-in-chief is Dutch and not Muslim. She deserves all credits for pulling off a fantastic job and putting the issue on the map – the exhibition was on national news, front page news in the largest news papers and as such successful in putting Muslim women positively in the public debate. Nevertheless I wonder if the organisers should have put themselves in another position as such. For instance as initiators and project leaders and rather leave the entire editorship to Muslim women.
This is essential, because similar to the freedom of choice of wearing a headscarf, Muslim women should also be entirely in charge themselves in deciding how they are being presented. A final – and necessary – step the organisation needs to take towards complete emancipation.
Finally, my favourite piece in the exhibition: a video by Nicole Martens who filmed women one-on-one putting on their headscarfs. She lays focus on the pride and self-consciousness of the act, and puts the person who is putting it on in the center: a free and self-determined individual.