A deeply religious and conservative country, Syria is one of the last places that you would expect to find sexy lingerie that looks like it came off the racks of Fredericks of Hollywood. However, that’s exactly what two London-based women of Middle Eastern descent found when they rummaged through the markets, shops, and factories in the capital city of Damascus. Gathering scores of sequined, furred, and zippered panties and bras, as well as catalogue photos of Eastern European women modeling the lingerie sets, editor/journalist Malu Halasa and designer Rana Salam assembled a surreal collection of items and images for a highly entertaining exhibition at the Kunsthal Rotterdam (through March 7) and a colorful book.
Decorated with silk flowers, fabric birds, and plastic insects and toys, these outrageous outfits are part of the female rites of passage from virginity to womanhood and an important item for working class weddings and marriages. Feathers and fur on undergarments are symbolic of the nest, while cellphones and cartoon figures on bikinis flaunt modernity. Some of the lingerie sets border on S&M getups, while others resemble the kitsch ensembles of burlesque dancers and drag queens. However, taken as a whole, this sexy lingerie gives us a better understanding of the Syrian culture and, if you’ll pardon the pun, lifts the political veil that separates us.