Veiled, Unveiled! The Headscarf

Special exhibition from October 18, 2018 – February 26, 2019

A piece of fabric forms the focus of this exhibition. It is much older than Judaism, Christianity and
Islam. Long before the birth of these religions, a headscarf denoted social differences in ancient
Mesopotamia – and its absence women’s sexual vulnerability. Today, it lies before us weighed
down with countless meanings. And far too often it still represents a man’s word on a woman’s

The fabric that pious women use to cover their head, their face and frequently also their entire
body whips up feelings. But the commandment that women cover their hair has been part of
European civilisation for centuries. Its history stretches from the beginnings of Christianity until

For Christians, the veil became a symbol of honour, modesty and virginity. The Apostle Paul
demanded that women cover their faces with a veil when they talk to God. Loose hair was
regarded as immoral, only the Virgin Mary is occasionally depicted wearing her hair in this way.
A covered head was the prerogative of married women, and of nuns. A bereaved woman put on
widow’s weeds. In the Late Middle Ages some European cities passed sumptuary laws that
stipulated how women should cover their head and neck.

In the early 1920s, the Pope deplored the imprudence of women who disregarded all modesty by
dancing wearing “indecent” dresses. During the Austrian Ständestaat and after the Nazi
annexation of Austria headscarf and dirndl signalled both the wearer’s fealty to her home country
and her down-to-earthness. In the 1950s, the printed headscarf became a fashionable accessory
that symbolized luxury, elegance and emancipation. Step by step the power structures of gender
relations were critically examined. But in Austria the patriarchal marriage-model was only
replaced by a more equal one in 1976.

Some Muslim girls and young women are forced to veil themselves when meeting someone who
is not a member of their family because men would otherwise regard them as sinful and
“available”; others, however, create a kind of street-wear look that is both colourful and cheeky,
sexy and demure. In Iran, female activists with loose hair take up positions at busy crossings and
wave their headscarf in the air as a sign of protest, while in the West female designers revive the
fashions of the 1950s and include vintage headscarves in their collections. “Modest fashion” is the
name of a fashion trend that focuses on showing less flesh; it has evolved into a worldwide billiondollar-
business irrespective of a particular religion. Queen Elisabeth II still sports an Hermès
headscarf as a kind of personal branding – and not only when she is out riding.

The Weltmuseum Wien presents seventeen independent position on the headscarf, designed to
broaden our view of this small piece of fabric by highlighting novel (and perhaps even
unexpected) aspects.

Curator of the exhibition: Axel Steinmann

Duration: October 18, 2018 - February 26, 2019

Press conference: October 16, 2018, 10 am

Formal opening: October 17, 2018


Contributors to the exhibition

Susanne Bisovsky

Gebhart Blazek

Reinhard Blumauer

Timna Brauer

Gerard van Bussel

Ingrid Gaier


Nilbar Güreş

Felicitas Heimann-Jelinek

Suzanne Jongmans

Tina Lechner

Bele Marx & Gilles Mussard

Christian Maryška

Renate Anna Menzel

Kathrin Pallestrang

Mitra Shahmoradi

Axel Steinmann



Press Release (pdf, 7 MB)
 (pdf, 7 MB)

Please find the credits in the press release.

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Key visual of the exhibition
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Suzanne Jongmans
Mind over Matter – Voltar
Foto auf Hahnemühlepapier, Edition von 8
© Courtesy Galerie Wilms

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Suzanne Jongmans
Mind over Matter - Solitude
© Courtesy Galerie Wilms

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Suzanne Jongmans
Julie - portrait of a Lady
© Courtesy Galerie Wilms

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Viennese Chic
© Susanne Bisovsky, Foto: Bernd Preiml

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Viennese Chic
© Susanne Bisovsky, Foto: Bernd Preiml

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Viennese Chic
© Susanne Bisovsky, Foto: Bernd Preiml

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Viennese Chic
© Susanne Bisovsky, Foto: Bernd Preiml

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Nilbar Güreş
2006, HD Single Channel Video, 06:19 min.,
colour, sound
Photo: Nicole Tintera
© Courtesy Galerie Martin Janda, Wien

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Tina Lechner
Gelatin silver print, 90 x 70 cm
© Courtesy Galerie Hubert Winter, Vienna

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Gerda Bohm
Ayt Haddidou woman in festive costume
Morocco, Central High Atlas, 1959
Weltmuseum Wien, Photo Collection
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Christian woman
Turkey, before 1886
Weltmuseum Wien, Photo Collection
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Ludwig Gustav Alois Zöhrer
Kel Rela Tuareg
Algeria, Tamanrasset, 1935
Weltmuseum Wien, Photo Collection
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Viennese woman in “Sart” dress
Vienna, 1927
Weltmuseum Wien, Photo Collection
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Award-winning head scarf design
Fashion drawing from the archives of the
fashion school of the city of Vienna at
Schloss Hetzedorf, 1964
© Archive of the Fashion
Vienna, Hetzendorf Palace

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The Virgin of Guadalupe
Los Angeles, USA, 2018
Weltmuseum Wien, North and Central America
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Portrait of a Woman with
Turban: Clio, Muse of History
Copy after Domenico Zampieri,
otherwise Domenichino
Attributed to Andreas Nesselthaler, c.1800
Canvas, 69 × 52.3 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna,
Picture Gallery
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Turban Cloth, Keffiyeh
Syria, Palmyra, 1831
Cotton, silk
198 × 90 cm
Carl Alexander Anselm Freiherr
von Hügel Coll.
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Headscarf for Men and Women
Tunisia, Sfax and surroundings,
before 1914
Cotton, silk
128 × 129 cm
Alfred Weidholz Coll.
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Women’s Headscarf
Turkey, Bursa, Uludağ; Yörük, before 1985
Cotton, silk, metal sequins, , glass beads,
pigment, 93 × 84 cm
Werner Finke and Markus De Zordo Coll.
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Tzute, Headscarf for Members
of a Cofradía with Doubleheaded Eagles
K’iche’ Maya, Santa Catarina
Nahualá, Dept. Sololá,
Guatemala, before 1980
Cotton, viscose
121 × 104 cm
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Headscarf and Shawl, Rusari
Iran, Khorasan, Zāvīn, c.1976
167 × 160.5 cm
Dorothea Azizi Coll.
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Bridal Headscarf, Mendil, Berb. Tamendilt
Tunisia, Tamezret,
mid 20th cent.
Wool, cotton, silk, synthetic fibre,
100 × 76 cm (with tassels)
Renate Anna Menzel Coll.
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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Pencil Sketch of a Veiled Woman
Anonymous, Iran, Teheran, 1928
Weltmuseum Wien
© KHM-Museumsverband

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