Arab woman wearing face mask in Zanzibar
Zanzibar, c. 1890
Portraits of the Zanzibari elite of the 1890s reveal changing vogues of fashion and personal adornment, glimpses of which were seen in the city, in women’s private domestic spaces, and in the photographic studio. Collections of elite portraits suggest that photography studios were a liminal place, semi-private and semi-public. In them, photographers captured a woman’s adornment as individual expression - ephemeral beauty refined into a still image. One unattributed portrait presents a royal woman in her finery and barakoa, a mask made of silk and embellished with silver and gold threads, which both shielded and featured her eyes.