Anyone planning to go to the opening at the London School of Economics this week of ‘Secret Life’, an exhibition drawn from Malu Halasa and Rana Salam’s acclaimed book on Syrian lingerie, will be surprised to find that it’s not on show: Malu Halasa was told that the subject was ‘too controversial’. LSE says that the exhibition was not closely related enough to the development of their interests and their mission — and that plans had not actually been finalised. Since, at the time of writing, the exhibition is still being advertised on the LSE website, one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
Moreover, Halasa and Salam’s book actually seems more than a good match for the LSE’s interests: a rare mix of culture, sexual politics, economics, art and pure fun, it’s an engagingly fresh and original look at the Middle East. The lush, technicolour photographs of Syrian lingerie illustrating their book reveal a little known world of hilarious kitsch (including panties adorned with mobile phones or birds in nests of scarlet pompoms) and sensuality.
The essays and interviews document a booming Middle East industry and offer a fascinating portrait of sexual mores in Syria — it is, apparently, some of the more conservatively dressed Muslim women who go for the most risque underwear. Fortunately, the book has been so well received (the FT called it ‘sociology by stealth’) that this should prove just a minor setback. What’s more disturbing is if the LSE think that this is a book to be avoided — just because it’s talking about underwear, instead of bombs, bullets and oil.