FRANKFURT — The exhibition “Contemporary Muslim Fashions” at the Museum Angewandte Kunst here has sparked a controversial debate about the symbolism of headscarves in Germany.
Prior to the vernissage, critics labeled the show as a “blast” against feminists and “propaganda” for oppressive Islamic ideologies, citing the headscarf as an instrument of oppression against women. At the opening on Thursday evening, protesters in front of the museum called for solidarity for Iranian women who are suffering from the country’s headscarf rule.
Initiated as the first comprehensive museum show on modest fashion for the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in San Francisco by Max Hollein, now director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the show was positively met when it first opened in America. The launch of the exhibition came in the face of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and a growing multibillion-dollar market for modest fashion for an estimated global population of 1.8 billion Muslims.
In Germany, the exhibition showcases 76 ensembles, of which only half feature a head covering of sorts. The scope includes sportswear, casualwear and haute couture and wedding gowns in different countries, by brands like Uniqlo and Nike, Muslim designers, fashion houses such as Christian Dior and Valentino and four German-Austrian designers. It also highlights the controversy of the mandatory headscarf in countries such as Iran, with critical works by artists including Shirin Neshat and Hengameh Golestan — an aspect largely ignored by the protesters in Germany.
Still getting accustomed to an increasingly diverse population marked by a relatively new history of immigration compared to countries like the U.S., the U.K. or France, Germany is facing rising right-wing populism and Islamophobia — and the mere mention of the Muslim headscarf is enough to cause uproar.
The exhibition will be on display at the Museum Angewandte Kunst until Sept. 15, before moving on to New York.