Marriage contracts on wood

My PhD-research project: Silver zār jewellery from Egypt 1900-1960

I've chosen this topic to work on, because it is an excellent example of my general aim: to show how jewellery is not just adornment, but a living aspect of a culture and in a persons' life.

In this study many collections of Egyptian zār-jewellery will be analyzed. The collections studied are museum collections as well as private collections, providing an unprecedented overview of zār amulets and other jewellery. First, I will introduce the zār ritual and its development over time. Next, I examine how these jewellery items ended up in European museum collections and private collections all over the world after have been with their owner for a lifetime. How did they transition from highly personal, meaningful objects to sellable goods, offered in bulk to outsiders? From there, I track what has been said about them during the century of their existence, charting the divided perspectives ranging from superstition to meaningful act. This will help me in some myth-busting about zār jewellery: many of the things you read online about them have no connection to their original nature.

When I've established a framework of what's what, I will turn to the jewellery itself. Based on the analysis of the jewellery studied and the historical background of the period in which they were produced, the study presents a new view on the meaning of the decoration on silver zār jewellery. They are objects of history: they reflect how socio-political events were incorporated in the collective memory of the zār.


The volume will also contain a reference guide for zār amulets and other jewellery, illustrated with many different examples.

My current book project: Scent and personal adornment in the Arab world (May 2020)

My forthcoming book contains a unique exploration of a little-known, invisible aspect of jewellery and adornment from the Arab world: scent. I'm delving into rituals, traditions and customs from many countries across this vast region to explore how scent is used in personal adornment.

The individual components of personal appearance have meaning. This is for example visible in skin aesthetics: what is often regarded as ‘decoration’ is the many-layered visible and olfactory aspect of a transformative process. The individual components of these paint mixtures carried meaning: a specific colour protected and blessed, the added scents amplified these qualities. The patterns inscribed on the skin went deeper than the surface: they blessed, retold stories kept in a collective memory, and connected generations, as did the colours and patterns in dress and jewellery along with the fragrances added to both. Together, they formed an aesthetic that extended far beyond pleasing the senses. The same holds true for the use of aromatics in various social circumstances: they convey respect, bless and protect. 

The book will offer insight in these social and spiritual values of fragrance by means of many examples of material culture, from perfume jewellery to incensing devices. With lots of photographs, this will be beautifully illustrated, engaging introduction in the relation between scent and personal adornment!