Published: December 12, 2017
NEW YORK CITY – The first comprehensive US exhibition drawn from the Israel Museum’s world-renowned collection of Jewish costumes is at the Jewish Museum through March 18. “Veiled Meanings: Fashioning Jewish Dress from the Collection of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem,” showcases more than 100 articles of clothing from the Eighteenth to Twentieth centuries, arranged as complete ensembles or shown as standalone items. A sumptuous array of apparel from more than 20 countries on four continents offers an opportunity for American audiences to view many facets of Jewish identity and culture through rarely seen garments.
Organized by the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, the range of textile designs and clothing in the exhibition illuminates the story of how diverse global cultures have thrived, interacted and inspired each other for centuries. Jewish communities from Afghanistan, Algeria, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, Germany, Georgia, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Israel, Italy, Libya, Morocco, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Turkey, the United States, Uzbekistan and Yemen are represented. Showcasing color, texture, function, artistry and craftsmanship, the exhibition also offers an incisive and compelling examination of diversity and migration through the lens of fashion.
The Jewish Museum’s presentation focuses on how clothes balance the personal with the social, how dress traditions distinguish different Jewish communities and how they portray Jewish and secular affiliations within a larger societal context. Historical, geographic, social and symbolic interpretation are included within the context of four thematic sections: “Through the Veil,” “Interweaving Cultures,” “Exposing the Unseen,” and “Clothing that Remembers.”
“Through the Veil” focuses on veils and wraps worn by Jewish women in Central Asia, revealing the influence of local Islamic culture on Jewish dress. Conversely, wraps worn by Jewish women inspired the adoption of new traditions; for example, the chader worn in Mashhad, Iran, was brought by Jews to Afghanistan.
“Interweaving Cultures” broadly examines the migration of Jewish communities and the effects of acculturation. The section uncovers multicultural influences on motifs, styles and dress-making techniques, as well as changes brought about by modernization. The ensembles displayed trace the melding of global dress customs and illustrate how clothing from distant locations and cultures influenced Jewish fashion, frequently resulting in innovative and often eclectic creations.
The exhibition features a brocaded silk sari worn by a bride in India’s mid-Twentieth Century Bene Israel community. Under European influence, white saris were preferred to the red ones traditionally worn by non-Jewish brides. Also highlighted is a deep purple silk, velvet and cotton outfit from the early Twentieth Century that incorporates elements from the Parisian ballet into the attire of a Jewish woman from Mashhad: the skirt is short and flared like a ballet skirt, but matching pants ensure modesty.
“Exposing the Unseen,” the largest section in the exhibition, magnifies the fine and often hidden details of clothing, the many layers and extraordinary craftsmanship that comprise an ensemble, and the symbolic embellishments that define a garment’s purpose. Visitors will be able to view the lavish ikat lining of a Bukharan coat, the metallic embroidery on a jacket from Persia, the undergarments of a trousseau from Rome and men’s sashes from Morocco and Iraqi Kurdistan.
Also examined is the tension between the desire to reveal and the dictum to conceal-evident in aprons and bodices worn by women to cover specific areas of the body. Paradoxically, these often elaborately crafted modesty garments drew attention to the physical attributes they were intended to obscure.
Articles of clothing used in tribute are included in the final section, “Clothing that Remembers.” Garments often serve to perpetuate the memory of the dead – at times after being repurposed or redesigned to fulfill this new role – as in the transformation of lavishly embroidered Ottoman Empire bridal dresses into commemorative Torah ark curtains.
The Jewish Museum is at 1109 Fifth Avenue at 92nd Street. For information, www.thejewishmuseum.org or 212-423-3200.
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