In Nigeria, the Veil Is a Fashion Statement

Artist Medina Dugger finds joy in a colorful yet complicated symbol of faith

Dugger makes a stylish statement by superimposing vibrant images of women jumping and twirling over photographs of patterned mats common in Nigeria. Medina Dugger
Dugger makes a stylish statement by superimposing vibrant images of women jumping and twirling over photographs of patterned mats common in Nigeria. Medina Dugger
Dugger makes a stylish statement by superimposing vibrant images of women jumping and twirling over photographs of patterned mats common in Nigeria. Medina Dugger
Dugger makes a stylish statement by superimposing vibrant images of women jumping and twirling over photographs of patterned mats common in Nigeria.

Long before the seventh-century Quranic edict that female believers “not display their beauty,” women across the world­—among them, Jews, Christians and Hindus—wore veils to indicate religious devotion and privileged social status. Today the practice is politically fraught: Several Western European countries have instituted “burqa bans,” which prohibit face coverings, while in Iran the hijab is mandated by law.

For Muslim women in Lagos, Nigeria, however, a veil is not only a sign of faith, but a fashion statement. “In the West I think we’ve really developed a finite, limited view...when the practice is much more complex,” says Medina Dugger, whose digital collage series Enshroud celebrates the veil’s creative possibilities. The Texas-born photographer first visited Africa’s largest metropolis in 2011 and found the fast-growing city’s hectic pace and abundant creativity so appealing she decided to stay. Lagosians’ aesthetic originality serves as a refreshing counterexample to the globalization of fashion, Dugger says. It’s also a reminder that the Islamic world is far from monolithic—and just because a woman covers her head, it doesn’t mean she’s sacrificed her right to self-expression.

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This article is a selection from the March issue of Smithsonian magazine