Portrait of 100 Women

Last weekend, I visited Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi. One of the current exhibits is called Lest We Forget, which explores “Emirati identity as conveyed through modes of adornment.” While my 4-year-old daughter ogled the jewelry display, I wandered around the weapons, the textiles, the perfumes, the henna, the furniture… then I rounded a corner and stopped short.

There in front of me were rows of burqas mounted on glass, which were hauntingly beautiful alone, but the accompanying title, Portrait of 100 Women, took my breath away. That single phrase emphasized just how integral these pieces were to a hundred women’s identities. Their presence was almost palpable, and I felt as though they were looking back at me through their burqas, through the glass, through time.

As I studied the rows of traditional masks, I also read the quotes and stories littered throughout. One in particular resonated with me:

I heard they’re tearing down her house, and I sneaked in to save anything… a piece of her? I found this hanging on her bed, as if time stood still, she was my home… and I couldn’t understand how can they tear down my home…?

So sad, so desperate, yet so powerful and beautiful. A vivid example of how life can exist in things, how a person can infuse her essence — her identity — into a plain object, and how those objects can hold an extraordinary amount of meaning to others.

I’m having a hard time describing just how much this exhibit resonated with me. If you’re in town, go check it out and let me know what you think.

Photo credit: The National, accessed here.

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