Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Brides of the Arab World: Sudan and Tunisia

All of these images and the text were showcased at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC from February 23-March 15, 2009.
I took the pictures and typed out the text in the exhibit.


Red Wedding Dress
Throughout Sudan, the traditional wedding gown is bright red, a color that is believed to ward off the evil eye. The bridal outfit includes a knitted black silk cap (jedla) ward under a gold cal (tageia) and gold ornaments such as a necklace, a belt, a bracelet and ring combination (kaff) and numerous anklets (hujul). The items displayed here are costume wedding jewelry, but such accessories are usually made of solid gold. Worn exclusively at weddings, they are valuable heirlooms handed down from one generation to the next.


Mahdia Wedding Costume
Brides in Mahdia, in eastern Tunisia, don this style of costume the day they are adorned with henna. Known as "qmejja et farmla guli," it has been worn since the early 20th century and exhibits influences form the Turkish, Andalusian and Fatimid dynasties: the pants are embroidered with sequins evoking fish scales (Mahdia was long a fishing center), the blouse is richly embroidered with paisley and floral motifs, and the gold embroidered tunic and matching headdress are meant to shine like the sun. This ensemble is very heavy, signifying the bride's weighty commitment to being a good wife.

Moknine Wedding Costume

Tunisian brides in the Sahel region, particularly in the city of Moknine, have worn this type of costume since the early 20th century. Called a "hrem sehli", it takes its name from the "hrem de hadj), the dress worn for the "hadj" pilgrimage. The various pieces of this complex ensemble reflect the many cultural influences- Jewish, Berber, Phoenician, Roman, Turkish, Arab- that have shaped the Sahel, which has been a crossroads.
The "hrem sehli" is typically black or burgundy silk embroidered with fine gold thread in an arabesque pattern. The bride wears it with a laish assortment of jewelry and an impressive headpiece consisting of a velvet "coufia" topped with a "gta", a rectangle of stiff, gold embroidered fabric.

Hammamet Wedding Costume
The bride wears this kind of caftan on the day henna is applied to her hands and feet. It is hand embroidered with gold thread and involves so much work that young girls typically begin to make their wedding dresses at age 15. Of Turkish origin, the outfit includes a long, collarless velvet tunic that is open in the front. The sleeves are embroidered with gold thread in shapes such as fish or the Hand of Fatma (to ward off the evil eye). Needlework in white silk thread decorates the cotton pants, and the blouse is embelished with Richelieu cut work embroidery.
The caftan is typically topped with a "tegeia" a richly embroidered headpiece decorated with gemstones, coral, pearls and fringe. The bride also wears gold or silver ankle bracelets that are often part of the dowry from her husband.

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