The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie

Dec. 5, 2009 – March 7, 2010 Deze tentoonstelling is afgelopen
With the exhibition ‘The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie' Kunsthal Rotterdam reveals unknown aspects of design, fashion and sexuality from the Middle East. The most exuberant and extravagant lingerie in the world comes from a place you would never have expected it to come from: Syria.

Undergarments, the utmost intimate pieces of clothing we know, are ever so richly decorated with fake fur, artificial flowers and small plastic toy cell phones. Some lingerie items even flash light, vibrate or sing. These frivolous lingerie items are part of a Islamic streetculture and traditions around wedding and marriage which is still very much in practice among members of the working class. Brides-to-be sometimes collect over thirty different lingerie sets for their wedding night. The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie presents a series of photographs and lingerie sets which together give an insight into the contemporary attitude towards sexuality in the Arab world.


To Syrian Muslims from principally conservative and religious social circles, the purchase of lingerie is a popular custom. Undergarments are openly displayed in shops and at souks and are a popular gift at weddings and between spouses. Lingerie is an important aspect of the female ‘rites of passage' from virginity to respectable adult womanhood. There are various funny and symbolic allusions present on bras and knickers. For example, designs of colourful birds and decorations with feathers or birds refer to the ‘birds nest': a metaphor for female pubic hair. 

Minuscule strings are also on sale in a funny packaging, in an egg which is decorated with feathers, in teabags or chocolate hearts. Potential customers determine their choice by means of pictures from catalogues by Syrian lingerie producers and manufacturers. As Syrian women do not pose as racy lingerie models, these sets of lingerie made from mostly knitted, transparent fabrics, are shown by models from Eastern Europe instead. These models take on poses that are as asexual and innocent as possible in order to prevent being considered provocative. These photo collections are often the basis for effective grassroots, mouth-to-mouth advertising.

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At Chronicle Books Publishers in cooperation with the Prince Claus Fund Library, the book The Secret Life of Syrian Lingerie: Intimacy and Design by journalist Malu Halasa and artist and designer Rana Salam has been published (ISBN 978-0-8118-6458-9).

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