Login + Register
At this year’s Poetry Walk, Galway Kinnell read Walt Whitman’s Crossing Brooklyn Ferry for the fourteenth time at the Fulton Ferry Landing, the poem that veiled and unveiled Whitman’s sexual orientation. His poem as yashmak—offering those sensitive to his femininity to look in through the slit he widened with his words, a poem he suspected and hoped might find a larger, more open crowd among the men and women generations after him, seeing mast-hemm’d Manhattan and sea-gulls oscillating their bodies much like he did in his time of thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats. “Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta!” he says, “Stand up, beautiful hills of Brooklyn! Throb, baffled and curious brain! Throw out questions and answers…”
Image of a woman in a Yashmak at a shop on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
This has definitely been a very difficult word to explore. While we are committed to using the Y version of this word yashmak for a face-covering veil, the more common words are niqab or burka. It’s a religious concept really, one that takes the sartorial gesture — much life the turban, the yarmulke, or the habit — to its most spiritual dimension. And yet, the political atmosphere of the day has transformed this simple expression of devotion into a highly charged issue of global magnitude. Post September 11, for a woman to wear a full face veil in an American city is a fearless act.
I make a date to go to a Yemenite video store to talk with a young, very hip woman in traditional Muslim dress who knows an immense amount about music and movies. We film together for an entire afternoon as I interview her about wearing a veil in New York and the challenges of being different on the street. It’s a wonderful conversation, and I feel great about the material. But, as I am heading out the door, she whispers, “Please don’t put my face on the internet.” Drat. Double drat. More work.
A few days later, I walk with my daughters from shop to shop along Atlantic Avenue’s famous block between 3rd and 4th Avenues, stopping into the mosque, various essential oil stores and then finally to a Halal butcher. When I ask if they know where I can find a shop that sells a yashmak, I am sent up the hidden stairway behind the cash register. Here? Really, here? I wonder. In a windowless room I never could have imagined before, I am allowed to run my fingers through one yashmak after another, as I listen to the friendly, hijab-dressed saleswoman explain the various forms of dress and their nuanced meanings. For the next several days, I return to the shop with my camera and am told a whole range of stories about why she is not there. On the third day, one of the butchers announces that she no longer works in the dress shop upstairs and that the owner, who was scheduled to meet me that day at 5 PM, is in Egypt.
In a case like this, I have now learned, it is never a good idea to call first. Just appear and start talking about your project and hopefully someone with power will become intrigued. At long last, I find an Islamic dress shop where I am allowed to film and ask a few questions. I speak French to the Moroccan saleswomen. They are, for the most part, quite shy about being on camera, but they are proud of their fabulous inventory and happy to allow me to photograph. I am still wondering whether a full-face veil is a symbol of oppression or liberation from the onus of making oneself beautiful in front of a far too critical public eye. When I look up the definition for the NIQAB or yashmak, I discover, for the first time, a definition on Wikipedia.com in which THE NEUTRALITY OF THIS ARTICLE IS DISPUTED.
Yashmak, yashmac or yasmak (from Turkish ya?mak, literally “to cover, hide”) is a Turkish type of veil or niqab worn by many Muslim women to cover their faces in public.
Unlike an ordinary veil, yashmak contains a head-veil and a face-veil in one, thus consisting of two pieces of fine muslin, one tied across the face under the nose and the other tied across the forehead draping the head.
Yashmak can also contain a piece of black horsehair attached close to the temples and sloping down like an awning to cover the face, or it can be a veil covered with pieces of lace, having slits for the eyes, tied behind the head by strings and sometimes supported over the nose by a small piece of gold.
- This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Yashmak”. More from Wikipedia.
Segment Producer: Lynne Sachs