Title: Traditional Costumes of Saudi Arabia – The Mansoojat Foundation Collection
Editors: Lamya F. Alghalib, Hamida Alireza, Richard Wilding
Photographer: Richard Wilding
Publisher: ACC Art Books, 2021
Format and layout
Size: 237 x 300 x 33 mm (9.33″ x 11.81″ x 1.29”)
Hardcover: 320 pages
Format: Text, images, and diagrams on a white background
Photos, Illustrations, and Diagrams
The book is a visual feast. From the colourful front cover depicting different forms of embellishments, to the back cover depicting a woman in vibrant traditional costume, the book exudes colour, imagery, and illustration.
Every spread contains photos. Most images are in full cover, with a few historical images in sepia or black and white. The images are a good mix of studio photography illustrating the different items from the collection, landscape, and on-location images of people in their traditional environment, as well as museum-style images of jewellery and other accessories.
The items from the collection are photographed on mannequins or on museum stands against a black background. These are complemented by images of models wearing the outfits in combination with other items and accessories. This gives a real-life representation of what these items would have looked like when in use and helps to bring it to life.
The introduction chapter contains one map of the country, and there are a few diagrams and graphic illustrations throughout the book explaining the different garment styles.
Every chapter starts with a double-spread colour image depicting the natural or geographical attributes of the region discussed in that chapter. It gives the book a sense of warmth and familiarity and helps to dispel the misconception that Saudi Arabia is only a desert.
The Mansoojat Foundation is a UK registered charity founded by a group of Saudi Arabian women who share an interest in the costumes and heritage of Saudi Arabia. Mansoojat’s mission is to preserve and revive the traditional costumes, textiles, and embroidery of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; to promote and conduct academic research on the history and culture of the region, and to raise public awareness of this unique heritage.
Masjoojat has collected approximately 1400 costume items, many of which have required extensive restoration. It has been a long-held ambition to produce a publication that shows the diversity of the costumes in the collection and examines their social, geographical, and cultural context.
Excerpt from the Preface of the book. p8
The book is not only a showcase for the Mansoojat Foundation Collection but a window onto the culture and society of Saudi Arabia. By showcasing the costumes, we get to understand and learn about the different geographical regions, the different tribes and cultures, the layers and intricacies of society, as well as the vibrant and colourful textiles and crafts that are part of Saudi Arabia’s heritage.
The book is co-authored by nine authors, including The Zay Initiative’s creative advisor, Dr Layla Al Bassam, each a specialist in their field of anthropology, ethnography, cultural heritage, literature, fashion, textiles, and history. The book opens with a preface, editor’s notes, and an introduction, and is divided into twenty chapters based on either geographical region or tribe.
Organising the book into logical chapters has been a challenge. In some instances, costumes had to be grouped by tribe and in others by geographical location. The geographical coverage is determined by the scope of the Mansoojat Collection. As the costumes have been collected from numerous donations and field trips, their geographical distribution is uneven – some regions of the Kingdom are sparsely represented, and others are more strongly represented.
Excerpt from the Preface of the book. p8
The book concludes with a chapter on the Hajj, a glossary of terms and an index.
Each chapter starts by putting the tribe or region in a historical context, explaining the climate, the geographical attributes of the region, the history, and the customs and traditions of the tribe. It also examines the roles agriculture, trade, skills and crafts played in the way people lived and dressed.
Each chapter then looks more specifically at the items from the collection relating to that tribe or region and are illustrated and explained in detail. Historical photographs juxtaposed with images of items from the collection brings the stories to life and adds a patina of love, life, and relationships to each piece of the collection.
The book is so much more than academic documentation of an important collection. It is a celebration of culture, of knowledge, of a place, and of people. The Mansoojat Collection is a globally significant asset and the work and dedication that have been put into collecting, restoring, researching, and documenting it is immeasurable.
There are many misconceptions about the people, and especially the women of Saudi Arabia. That they are oppressed, hidden away, and always and only wearing black. This book dispels all those myths. Not just by displaying the colourful costumes, but by bringing to life the stories of the people behind the collection.
Here at The Zay Initiative, we are working hard on preserving, documenting, and reviving Arab cultural and dress heritage. Our collection started with The Sultani Collection of traditional UAE dress and has since grown to include the whole Arab region. We consider our friends at the Mansoojat Foundation inspirational and an example of what we hope to achieve.
This book is an important contribution to the legacy of Arab dress, its preservation and documentation and will have pride of place on our bookshelf.
We were fortunate to receive a copy of the book as a gift from our dear friend and mentor Sit Hamidah Alireza as soon as it came off the press. We could not wait to dive into it and to share it with you. To order your copy of the book and to learn more about the Mansoojat Foundation and its incredible collection, visit their website and Instagram account.
*Become a Friend of the Zay to get access to more content such as this and to help sustain the legacy of Arab Dress Heritage.
*Feature image: Book cover