Viennaʹs Ethnological Museum

"Veiled, unveiled! The headscarf"

These days headscarves tend to be associated with Muslim head-coverings. But an exhibition at Vienna's Ethnological Museum demonstrates the many – and sometimes contradictory – roles the headscarf has fulfilled over time. By Cristina Burack

It's a piece of fabric that is laden with meaning: the headscarf. And over its 4,000-year-old history spanning the globe, it has taken on, lost and represented meanings that are as diverse – and sometimes even as contradictory – as the manifestations of the head-covering cloth itself.

A special exhibition titled "Veiled, Unveiled! The Headscarf" currently on show at Vienna's Ethnological Museum (Weltmuseum) hopes to broaden perspectives on the piece of fabric.

Photographs, drawings, videos and high fashion designs are just some of the items that make up the show's 17 independent positions on the headscarf.

An idea born of current events

While the exhibition covers millennia, it was a series of social and political events last October that triggered the idea for the show, revealed curator Axel Steinmann.

He highlighted a pharmacy's advertisement featuring a woman with a headscarf, the introduction of hijab-wearing emojis and Saudi Arabia's decision to grant citizenship to a "female" robot that – unlike the country's female inhabitants – must not cover its head in public.

In this context, Steinmann said, it is important to realise that the headscarf has been influenced by its political and moral surroundings throughout history, both in the East and in the West. "The goal of the exhibition is to reveal the transformations that the headscarf has undergone and that have been forgotten, repressed or those that are simply unknown," he added.

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