To say that Under The Abaya caused quite a stir would be an understatement. Following its launch at Art Books Jeddah Fair in February 2018, Saudi’s first street-style book captured the imaginations of readers from as far afield as South Africa to Japan. “I always knew that Saudi women were often seen as these enigmatic creatures unknown to the outside world, but I didn’t anticipate the depth of this curiosity or interest to be so global,” author Marriam Mossalli tells Grazia Middle East.
Two years on, and the sequel is now underway, and promises not to disappoint. Under the Abaya: Saudi Women Who Inspire will take the focus away from fashion and shine the spotlight on the accomplishments of the abaya-wearing women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a foreword by Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States of America.
“Who’s more inspiring than the first female Saudi ambassador to United States of America?” Marriam points out. “Princess Reema is just so generous with her time and with her support; I couldn’t envision anyone else writing the foreword. She has always supported women, and I also attribute the dissolution of the taboo around showing one’s face and revealing one’s identity to her.”
Marriam recalls, “Two years before I published Under The Abaya, I had asked women if they would participate in such an initiative. Everyone was enthusiastic, but most asked to have their faces cropped or censored out. Fast forward to Princess Reema being appointed to the General Sports Authority and suddenly we see not only a Saudi woman but a Saudi royal showing her face; it immediately changed things. Others followed suit, and by the time I decided to go ahead with my book, I had women not only insisting I show their faces, but also mentioning their Instagram accounts, too.”
More than just a street-style book, Marriam has decided that the second edition of Under The Abaya should quite rightly shine the spotlight on the strength and success of her Saudi sisters, and justifiably so. “It’s always been important to me to have Saudis narrate their own stories. Too often, they’ve been told for us, and incorrectly so. My goal has always been to dispel some of those stereotypes, and I thought a fashion book would be the best format. What better way to show that we’re not that muted, suppressed stereotype wearing all black than by showing women in their colourful fashion choices and giving them a voice to talk about what they’ve achieved, and how?”
So far Marriam has received over 250 submissions for Under the Abaya: Saudi Women Who Inspire, all showing the very modern face of a nation undergoing astonishing social transformation, and serving as a chronicle of this change.
According to Marriam, “What I do hope is that these books inspire people to learn more about Saudi, and perhaps remove some of that mystery and show how universal our ambitions and challenges really are. As women, we share so much with our counterparts across the world, and I just hope that this book is able to reveal that.”
• For your chance to be included in the all-new edition of Under The Abaya: Saudi Women Who Inspire, email your photos to email@example.com
Photos: Courtesy of the author