Exhibition: Life and Sole – Footwear from the Islamic World

British Museum - Life and Sole, Footwear from the Islamic World

Exhibition dates: 14 November 2015 – 15 May 2016

Some twenty-five pairs of shoes, slippers, sandals, clogs and boots from North Africa, the Middle East, Turkey, Central Asia and South Asia are being shown together for the first time. Dating from 1800 onwards, they demonstrate the important role footwear has always played in the social and cultural life of people living in these regions. The display presents a variety of regional styles, materials, embellishments and shoe manufacturing traditions. It examines shoes as status symbols, class indicators and diplomatic gifts.

The display includes shoes for bathing rituals, children, specific vocations, extreme environments and ceremonial occasions. A pair of richly embroidered red leather slippers (tarkasin), made in Ghadamis, Libya, would have formed an important part of a bride’s wedding trousseau. Luxuriant stilted bath clogs (qabqab) from nineteenth-century Ottoman Turkey, over ten inches high, would have been worn by an urban, upper-class woman. A pair of qabqab made in 2014 by Palestinian fashion designer Omar Joseph Nasser-Khoury uses the form of these iconic sandals to comment on contemporary Middle Eastern politics. Delicately patterned men’s leather loafers from early twentieth-century Pakistan (pictured above) combine Western footwear styles with South Asian opulence.

Together, these shoes express identities, beliefs, traditions and lifestyles of people from across the Islamic world. They represent the significance of footwear in Islamic social and cultural life and the impact of international trade and politics on footwear fashions.

For more information, visit the website of the British Museum, London.

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