Emirati artist Ghaya Khalifa Almarar, 27, recently led a group of female participants at a workshop titled ‘The Art and Heritage of Burqa Printing’, organised by the Hamdan Bin Mohammed Heritage Centre (HHC).
Almarar said that one can add calligraphy, cut-out designs, or even quotes or verses from a poem to give the burqa a more personal and modern touch.
Not to be confused with the head-to-toe covering used in Afghanistan or some parts of Pakistan – where one sees only through a mesh screen over the eyes – the burqa (pronounced as ‘burga’ in the local dialect) in the UAE and other GCC countries covers only a woman’s forehead and lips, Almarar explained.
Each emirate also has a specific design for burqa. The ‘Zabeel cut’ is followed in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, with its narrow top and curved, broad bottom, while the Al Ain design has both a narrow top and bottom.
In Sharjah, the top of the burqa is inclined forward, while in Fujairah, the burqa has a broader top that goes beyond the forehead.
“The burqa is a traditional accessory that protects a woman’s face from the scorching sun and dust. In the UAE, the design of burqa is said to be symbolising the features of a falcon, which is know for its strength and grace,” Almarar noted.
She added: “To the uninitiated, the burqa might appear to be made of metal but it’s actually from a cloth imported from India and dyed in a special ink.”
Almarar also debunked the connotation that burqa is a symbol of women’s subjugation.
“Progress has been made and women are actually now given an equal voice with men in running the affairs of the country,” she explained.
“The UAE is home to many cultures and influences. There should be no debate in wearing a burqa because it is always a personal choice, and we are reviving it because we want to preserve our tradition,” she added.
“Burqa used to be part of daily wear – in olden days, girls usually wear a burqa after their engagement or when they hit puberty – but now, donning it is a dying practice,” she lamented.