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Exhibition on desert silver in Bergen op Zoom (NL)

On the 20th of May 2017 an exhibition on the use of silver through the ages will open at the museum De Markiezenhof in Bergen op Zoom, in the south of the Netherlands. Name of the exhibition is "Past Vanity". De Markiezenhof will display unique objects and organize lectures on the use of silver and the silver smiths of this city of Bergen op Zoom in the past 6 centuries. Apart from that, also other parts of the world where silver is used will be highlighted through small exhibits and activities. The contexts of use of this silver is the main focus of these small exhibits.

Wearable Heritage and Bedouin Silver will be presenting parts of their collections in a themed exhibit called "Desert Silver", on the use of silver in the North African and West Asian region. Objects from both collections will be on display and you will get the opportunity to try on some of this traditional silver yourself and take a selfie (better called a "silfie" in this context). Traditional clothing items, decorated with silver as well as silver jewelry will be presented on a large try-out table, where additional information about the objects can be read as well. And although these try-out items are not antique, but contemporary, their 'real' and old counterparts can be viewed in the showcases nearby. The exhibition will be accompanied by several lectures on the subject and a book presentation of her latest book "Desert Silver" by Sigrid van Roode. Of course my own book Egypt's Wearable Heritage, will be for sale there as well. Please look out for more dates on the Facebook page Wearable Heritage. But the exhibition will definitely be worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood!

Rashaidah face veil

So, how then is silver used on traditional clothing and how will we, as Wearable Heritage, ​​contribute to this fantastic exhibit? Almost all of the objects from our collection on temporary loan in Bergen op Zoom show silver in relation to headdresses and face veils. With this we have tried to tell a story of the variation of silver used as decoration on textile. The techniques we have selected for you vary considerably. They range from the application of (silver) coins, silver chains and shackles on headdresses, the application of silver amulets, the careful arrangement of silver beads, to a kind of embroidery technique in which strips of silver have been used on strips of textile, called badla (or Tulle bi Telly in Egypt). With silver coins and other decoration a woman showed her social status and personal wealth. Apart from this, the silver was also used for protection as the shining character of the cloth thwarted evil. Silver amulets and talismans protected the wearer against all kinds of negative influences and attracted good fortune as well.

Badla on Rashaida face veil

The badla technique is for instance used on face veils from the Rashaidah in the south of Egypt and the north of Sudan. The two veils on display in the exhibit are very different. One of them is a heavily decorated veil made in a very traditional manner, the other is a veil made from other clothing items from Yemen, remade into a veil in Africa. The latter also shows imitation badla, in which this typical decoration technique is made with another metal-like material. The badla is made by embroidering small strips of silver into the textile, between the threads of the weft. In this manner the silver strips pull the weft apart somewhat creating an open worked pattern. This technique can be found from India to Africa and it is very common to find it in these face veils from the North East African region.

Rashaida face veil

On the largest veil the decorated with silver amulets and silver beads can be seen. These amulets are zār amulets, objects used in a magic ritual that can be found on both sides of the Red Sea, but mostly in East Africa. These amulets are sewn onto the veil in what appear to be random places, but it may also be that the amulets are placed on these spots carefully, where they were meant to be effective on the body underneath.

‘Araqiyeh headdress

Coins can be found on all veils and headdresses you will see in this exhibit. Some of them are truly legendary coins, like the Maria Theresa Thaler (MTT) for instance, minted from 18th century Austria to the present. This large coin may be pierced and sewn onto cloth as well. The MTT displays wealth, but the effigy on the coin is said to also (amongst others) stimulate fertility for its wearer.

"Urge sinsaal" headdress

Silver chains and shackles can be found on one of the Rashaidah veils and on headdresses from the Palestinian area. This head decoration shows coins, beadwork and silk tassels and is an incredibly rich object. The shackles are enveloping the head of the wearer and also run over the head from the front of the face to the nape in the neck. They are executed with great detail and hallmarks by the jeweller can be seen on the surface of the shackles.

Last but not least, more than 70 pieces of traditional silver jewelry items will be on display in the Bergen op Zoom "Desert Silver" exhibit! They show variation of silver from the entire region of West Asia and North Africa. Check out our facebook page for more news on the opening event on the 20th of May.

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