Tonight I attended a very cool presentation at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Lund. Manu Halasa is a London based journalist and editor covering the Middle East and exploring its visual pop culture.
She has co-edited this amazing book with Lebanese designer Rana Salam called “The secret life of Syrian lingerie. Intimacy and design” which I`ve jumped into by chance at Beirut airport and immediately bought. I was totally fascinated by it, by its catchy arty pictures and by the stories it was telling abut, revolving around Syrian men who make kinky lingerie for their potential spouses, sisters, cousins, daughters. According to Manu, who has brought us to a visual journey into Damascene Suq al Hamidiya, there are more than 200 little tiny factories that manufacture these fast changing lingerie models, from feathers to ringing mobiles to actual candies “embedded” into the panties. Stuff like this, pretty unique in its genre, at least for Western tastes standars!
There are also models who advertise this kinky stuff: the pictures and the all settings are kind of “vintage”, not to say “kitsch”, but never vulgar. They convey this idea of irony and playfulness -which I`m not that sure it`s linked to sex in the country, but Manu seems to be quite persuaded about this-. Btw, the featured models are all Eastern Europeans -and many of them working in Damascene “cabaret”- , not sure a Syrian could ever do this kind of job, despite in a sort of “ironic” atmosphere.
<<The Arab street – its vibrancy, innovativeness, traditions of design and contemporary expression – has been obscured by geopolitical issues. Any attempt to deviate from the established line that the region is a place of war, religious fundamentalism or terrorism becomes virtually impossible particularly within the context of mainstream Western commercial publishing>> says Malu who urged foreigners to go to Syria, meet people, talk to them, discover their stories because <<talking to people is the best antidote to war>>.
I wonder what would be the reaction of people in general and women in particular if she did an art exhibition featuring this stuff in Damascus so moving this lingerie from the context they are used to a completely new one. Anyway, it made me feel kind of “homesick” and almost felt the crazy atmosphere of Old Damascus “invading” the room with its colours and lights and energy.