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Muslim fashion: When faith intersects with creativity

Sebastian Partogi

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Wed, March 7, 2018  /  03:52 pm
Muslim fashion: When faith intersects with creativity

An item from the Trans-seasonal collection by Delina Darusman-Gala (JP/Arief Suhardiman)

How Muslim women in Australia express their spiritual faith through unique and empowering fashion statements is the central theme of an ongoing exhibition called Faith Fashion Fusion: the style of Muslim women in Australiaorganized by the Australian Embassy Jakarta and the Sydney-based Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (MAAS).

The embassy is showcasing the exhibition, which has been developed since 2012 by MAAS, from March 1 to 18 at the Museum Sejarah Jakarta (Jakarta History Museum) in Jl. Taman Fatahillah No. 1 in Kota Tua, West Jakarta. Glynis Jones curates the exhibition.

The exhibition presents visitors with the latest Muslim-inspired designs created by various Australian designers, including Aheda Zanetti, who invented the famous burqini (swimsuit design inspired by both burqa and bikini, although it does not qualify as either of these garments). The exhibition also shows portraits of Muslim Australian women who excel in the fields of sports, the arts, science, academics and others.

“We are bringing the works of Australian Muslim designers to Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim community in the world. Furthermore, Jakarta also strives to be a global Islamic fashion capital very soon and Islamic fashion is also an emerging industry in Australia as well,” Jones said on the common ground which had inspired MAAS to bring the exhibition to Jakarta.

To create a cross-cultural creative showcase, the opening of the exhibition on March 1 featured the latest collections of Indonesia’s Muslim fashion designers, Delina Darusman-Gala and Jenahara Nasution. Both women also have Australian connections: Delina was born and raised in Australia, while Jenahara is an Australian Awards Indonesia program alumnus.

“This exhibition seeks to celebrate various experiences and achievements of the female Muslim population in Australia and also how they express their faith through fashion. Furthermore, to mark the upcoming International Women’s Day on March 8, we would like to celebrate Australia’s female Muslim population’s contributions to society in sports, the arts, sciences and other fields,” said Australian charge d’affaires Allaster Cox.

One of the Muslim Australian women whose photographs and story are featured in the exhibition is lifesaver Mecca Lala, who works on the beach.

According to Cox, Muslims constitute around 5 to 6 percent of Australia’s total population, or around 300,000 people. Most of them came from Middle Eastern countries such as Syria and Lebanon, he asserted.

Jenahara said that based on her observation, since most Muslim women in Australia were not natives, they brought the fashion characteristics of their own cultures of origin with them to the country.

“Therefore, it is hard to compare Indonesian Muslim fashion to that of Australia. We, however, can learn from how the Australian fashion designers market their products in a more advanced way than us, in terms of brand concept, storytelling and marketing techniques,” she said on the sidelines of the exhibition opening.

Separately, Jones said that she was motivated to curate the exhibition for the first time in 2012 because she was fascinated by Muslim fashion’s uniqueness.

“I have never seen anything like burqini, a new Australian swimwear invention. It helps Muslim women to also take part in sports, because it features a veil that is not too tight so it will be comfortable for its wearers. Furthermore, it has prints on top and thicker fabric to make it look modest, along with a tie that connects the lower part with the tunic top to keep both positions intact,” she explained.

She added that the different burqini designs were the exhibition’s highlights. Stories about Muslim Australian women who take part in sports, such as that of Amna Karra Hassan, who started a football team in Western Sydney, were also highlights of the exhibition, according to Jones.

Jones said she had to go through a learning curve to understand how to curate a Muslim fashion exhibition.

“I researched the exhibition for 18 months. I am not a Muslim so I had to turn to Australia’s Muslim community members to take lessons in the Quran and the hadith [words or deeds of Prophet Muhammad]. I also attended their parties and wedding ceremonies so I would understand their cultural nuances. This learning experience helped me to determine what they wanted to see in the exhibition,” she explained.

According to Jones, the learning process also helps her to understand basic Islamic principles that helped her to arrange the exhibition showcase. “For instance, you should not put shoes next to the Koran so we can’t display it like that,” she said.

Another interesting thing that Jones discovered was that Muslim fashion designers in Australia were also catering to non-Muslims as well.

“Most clothes available in the Australian marketplace are too tight or too small, so Australian women who don’t like this type of clothing could get their clothes from Muslim designers,” Jones said.

Muslim Indonesian fashion designers Delina and Jenahara also stole the spotlight during the exhibition opening with a fashion show of their latest collections: Delina with Trans-seasonal and Jenahara with Reverie.

Delina’s Trans-seasonal collection showcased unique cuts and motifs with unusual juxtapositions of shapes and colors.

“I take my design inspiration from Japan because I love their uniqueness; Japan is like another world for me. I also feel like I’m very different from everybody else,” Delina, who used green lipstick during the exhibition opening, said. “You can also see in my design, it’s very different”.

Jenahara’s collection Reverie, which was premiered in the Jakarta Fashion Week 2017, meanwhile, expresses her concerns about the armed conflict in Muslim-populated countries such as Syria. This concern is evident in the use of army look and greenish color tones in the collection’s items, which are blazers that are suitable for work costumes.

“I present a firm and edgy cuts to this collection because I want to turn women into strong personalities. As we can see from any armed conflicts, women are always the most vulnerable victims while losing their husbands and children at the same time,” she said.