Across Time and Space

By Elizabeth Collier

The Nour Festival may be drawing to a close but its light shows no signs of dwindling. The final week continues to impress with a vibrant and luxurious display of fabric, fashion and photography in the form of the exhibitionAcross Time and Space’ at the Ismaili Centre. 

Spread across the Centre’s large reception room, traditional and modern garments from across the Middle East and Central Asia are displayed geographically as they originally travelled along the Silk Road. Beginning with traditional costumes from Kurdistan, we are led across Egypt, Persia, Saudi Arabia and Kazakhstan, whilst learning the history of each region’s dress.

What is most striking  inside, is the exhibition’s brilliant display of colour. The fabrics have been adorned with beads, sequins and gold coins, shining vibrantly under the Nour Festival light. The display from London’s Mansoojat Foundation is particularly strong. The charity, which specialises in preserving and presenting ethnic costume from Saudi Arabia, succeeds in educating viewers about stylistic differences across the different regions in the country. An opulent purple and gold piece shines besides richly beaded, patterned clothing from elsewhere in the region, informing the viewer that the fashions of Saudi Arabia are rich and diverse.

Displayed alongside the traditional costumes, are photographs from photographer Richard Wilding, who specialises in documenting Middle Eastern culture. These images are situated next to nineteenth-century images of daily life along the Silk Road and historic maps of the region.


In addition to the traditional clothing, is a wonderful array of modern and contemporary fashion. Particularly interesting is a display of Kaftans from the 1970s through to today, put together by curator Roya Arab. This section of the exhibition is especially engaging as it shows the direct influence of Middle Eastern fashion on the West.

The outfits are presented within a western context, beginning with a seventies hippie complete with rose tinted sunglasses and flowers – all topped off with a blue kaftan, and concluding with a black and white kaftan, worn by a male model in a 2013 fashion show from high-end fashion label KTZ.

These western adaptations of the Kaftan stand proud next to the designs of contemporary British designer Zaeem Jamal, whose creations are heavily influenced by Ancient Egypt. During the show’s opening reception, Jamal’s clothes dazzled during a fashion show highlighting elegant designs adorned with ankhs, remnants of Egyptian headdresses and the wings of the goddess Isis. Jamal well and truly succeeded in turning his models into his own contemporary goddesses.

Across Time and Space
is a sumptuous display of fabric that presents the Middle East and North Africa with the sartorial accolade it has long been without, with the potential to be a source of inspiration for western designers.

The exhibition is open from 25 to 29 November, daily 10:00-15:30 – Free

Elizabeth Collier is currently studying for an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa. She is an aspiring art critic with a strong interest in contemporary art and globalisation, particularly the way in which non-Euro-American art is perceived and presented in the west.

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