Guest lecturer to speak on Islamic fashion
By Sanya Ali
The Mathers Museum of World Cultures will welcome a guest lecturer as part of Bloomington Against Islamophobia’s Open University week.
Beth Buggenhagen, associate professor of anthropology at IU, will deliver a lecture titled “Islamic Fashion and Fashioning Faith” starting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the museum.
Buggenhagen said the talk works in conjunction with the Themester topic of beauty and her class E400: Fashion, Beauty, Power, a Themester course taught through the Department of Anthropology that focuses on understanding the aesthetics of ritual, performance, material culture and more.
“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity, and anthropology is excited to participate in Bloomington Against Islamophobia’s Open University week,” Buggenhagen said. “Islamophobia is an important issue in our community and nationally. This is an opportunity for us to provide some complexity and some nuance to the conversation.”
The lecture, which operates as part of the class, includes a film screening of a 20- to 30-minute documentary on the topic of Islamic fashion. Produced by anthropologist Yasmin Moll, “Fashioning Faith” looks at New York City fashion and some Muslim designers who are designing clothing that is appropriate for certain religious preferences.
Buggenhagen said Moll produced the film when she was a graduate student at New York University. The documentary follows the use of the Muslim veil in the city and the significance of the veil as both a religious and fashionable accessory.
The motivation to screen the documentary is also based on the idea of diverse perspectives, because veils and other aesthetic choices by groups vary across certain time periods, Buggenhagen said.
“One of the reasons we use film in anthropology is to bring in the voices of people in the community,” Buggenhagen said. “That way I’m not always teaching secondhand. This is what this person said, here’s a film, and you can see people using their own voice to talk about their own practices.”
Sarah Hatcher, head of programs and education at Mathers, will share with students a variety of Eurasian textiles from the Dee Birnbaum collection to demonstrate some of the variety in Islamic fashion, Buggenhagen said. Hatcher said the museum has a handful of veils from the Middle East in the Teaching Gallery.
“They are beautiful examples of some of the variety of pieces worn in the Islamic world,” Hatcher said. “Beth is a wonderful educator and researcher, so I look forward to hearing about her perspectives and experiences.”
Buggenhagen said her research in particular looks at Senegalese Muslims and the very particular connection that cultural community has to clothing.
Textiles can be used on a variety of occasions in Senegalese culture, from giving gifts of clothing to young women during religious holidays to using small sections of cloth for a variety of purposes, from wrapping babies to wrapping a body in preparation for burial, Buggenhagen said.
“When I did my research on the global networks of Senegalese Muslims, I found that the textiles are a form of women’s wealth and values in Senegal,” Buggenhagen said. “Gifts of cloth and clothing happen for every single ceremonial and religious holiday in Senegal.”
Buggenhagen’s research background will be connected to the film, which focuses more on the fashion industry and the Muslim presence in that part of New York City culture, Buggenhagen said.
Styles and contexts for certain fashion choices change with the changing world each generation, and that is one of the major takeaways Buggenhagen said students should leave with.
“I want students to take away the dynamism of veiling practices, that they change historically, are contextually taken and that there’s a fashion to them,” Buggenhagen said. “They are beautiful and pious and embody the practices of a specific time and place. They’re also part of globalization and fashion systems we know today — Islam doesn’t exist outside of globalism.”
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