From Kaftan To Kippa

From Kaftan to Kippa

When thinking of the Middle East, images of bearded men and veiled women tend to come to mind. But this neighbour of Europe is far more diverse than we often think. In the past few years, media coverage of the Arab Spring and the dramatic war in Syria and Iraq, have placed groups such as the Copts and the Kurds in the limelight, but there are many more ethnic and religious communities that are often ill-defined by national borders.

This digital exhibition is based on a gallery display presented at the Textile Research Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, from 3rd April to 28th June 2017. With the subtitle 'Dress and Diversity in the Middle East', it showcased the rich dress traditions of some of the groups living in the Middle East, highlighting the intricate history of this region. It included the Copts, Bedouin, Palestinians, Druze, Orthodox Jews, Samaritans, Kurds and the Zoroastrians.

The exhibition formed part of the Fitting In / Standing Out research project of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which was funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). 

1. A brief history

The Middle East is known to many as the ‘Cradle of Civilizations’, and indeed, agriculture and settled life quickly developed in this part of the world from ca. 9,000 BC…

2. Global fashion

From the 1970s onward Western-style clothing has become more widely available to all layers of Middle Eastern society. T-shirts and jeans, suits and sweaters are worn next to local-style garments…

3. Fez or tarbush

Followers of the British comedian Tommy Cooper, who died in 1984, will instantly recognise the bright red cap that became his trademark, but what exactly is he wearing? Is it…

4. The Bedouin

Bedouin is a term that is commonly used in the Middle East to indicate people who live outside the urban centres and who mainly live a nomadic or semi-nomadic existence,…

5. The Copts

The Copts are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, which developed as a separate Church in the sixth century AD, in the wake of the Council of Chalcedon…

6. The Druze

The Druze are a monotheistic, Abrahamic religious group numbering around one million adherents. Most live in Syria and Lebanon, but smaller numbers reside in Israel, Jordan and outside of the…

7. The Palestinians

What exactly should be understood as Palestine is an extremely political question. The southern Levant was known as ‘Palaistine’ by Herodotus, while the Romans called it ‘Syria Palaestina’. One of…

8. The Samaritans

The Samaritans constitute a separate ethnic and religious group that lives in modern Israel. They claim direct descent from the Israelites and say that their ancestors lived in this part of…

9. The Jews

As an ethno-religious group, Jews are both a people and members of a religious faith. Slightly less than half the world’s Jews live in Israel, while most of the other…

10. The Zoroastrians

The Zoroastrians are the followers of one of the oldest extant religions that base their beliefs on a written text. Its roots allegedly date back to the teachings of an…

11. The Syriac Orthodox Church

The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the Oriental Christian Churches that still use ancient Syriac in their liturgies. Ancient Syriac itself is a dialect of Aramaic, which is closely…

12. The Kurds

The Kurds number around thirty million people and are the world’s largest stateless nation. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, after the Arabs, Turks and…

13. Further information

This digital exhibition is based on a gallery display presented at the Textile Research Centre, Leiden, The Netherlands, from 3rd April to 28th June 2017. With the subtitle: Dress and…