Accepted Paper:

What is the "Appropriate" Emirati Face Mask? Contemporary Discussions on the Cultural Representation of Emirati Women  
Manami Goto (University of Exeter)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores discussions around the 'appropriate' Emirati face mask, burgu', though analysing concepts of female agency and cultural appropriation. The research highlights significance of burgu' in Emirati identity and messages the wearers communicate by wearing different styles of burgu'.

Paper long abstract:

Since the establishment of the United Arab Emirates as a nation-state in 1971, the government has paid special attention to material cultures, using them to cultivate a strong sense of Emirati national identity. One aspect of this is the use of the woman's face mask, known locally as burgu'. It was formerly a long-standing custom amongst Emirati women to adopt the burgu' from the age of puberty, or on their wedding day, and to continue wearing it for the rest of their lives. However, as the practice of concealing the face has declined, both the government and people have sought to preserve the face-mask-culture in various other ways. Middle-aged Emirati women regularly appear on social media wearing the face mask; however, despite their important role as 'cultural guardians', in this regard, a contemporary version of the Emirati face mask—the burgu' bushanab— which consists of a narrower frame and does not conceal the face like 'traditional' ones, has received some criticism from local people, and in particular, men. Their main argument is that the contemporary mask does not fulfil the authentic purpose of the mask, which is to represent an "appropriate" image of Emirati woman and their identity. Through interviews and observations of online discussions, this paper investigates how Emiratis, especially women, perceive new changes to the face mask and, through it, acknowledge their ideal representations of Emirati women in relation to the face mask. The discussion is built around concepts of female agency and cultural appropriation.

Panel P035
Art, Culture and Materiality in the Arabian Peninsula