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Faith, fashion, and the art of head-wrapping on display at multicultural expo in Dearborn

Head wraps are more than just accessories worn for religious purposes; the head wrap (also referred to as a head tie or turban) has been widely used for centuries as a cultural expression of glamour and as a way keeping hair neat and swept back. 
Donned in famous paintings such as Jan Vermeer's iconic 17th-century painting, "Girl with a Pearl Earring," and worn by movie stars from Elizabeth Taylor to Jennifer Lopez, the exotic head wrap is once again having a fashion moment. Nowhere was this more visible than at the Headwrap Expo, an event created to highlight the beauty of different religious and ethnic groups through the culture of head-wrapping. 
Anthropologist and headscarf enthusiast Zarinah El-Amin, owner of head-wrapping business Beautifully Wrapped, created the exhibition in 2011. Now in its third year, the expo has become a true multicultural happening.

"I wanted to use the global art of head-wrapping to pull people together so we can get to know one another," says El-Amin.

Her idea worked. Hundreds of people packed the Ford Auditorium on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn on Sunday, May 17, to buy African textiles, get henna tattoos, people watch, and show off their unique head-wraps. Detroit's burgeoning South Asian, West African, and Eastern European communities were well represented at the event. Some attendees peddled their wares, while others simply enjoyed the party. 
El-Amin and her organizing committee wanted the expo to have the vibe of an ethnic bazaar. Visitors were able to go from one booth to the next looking at African textiles and an array of scarves from around the world. Event goers ate, openly greeted one another, and danced to the beat of live music. The sense of community was palpable.
While the event was mainly about art and fashion, a social justice thread was present throughout. Some venders sold headscarves to support women who lost their hair during chemotherapy. Others sold homemade soaps and body products.
"The head wrap expo attracts an eclectic group of people that care about the world we live in. You will see lots of folks doing things to assist in the empowerment of various groups," says El-Amin. 
Esther McCormick is a community health organizer. A devout Sufi Muslim, she says she wraps her head to contain her energy. 
"It's to keep myself contained, centered, and focused," says McCormick. "Culturally, women in Africa -- once they are adult and marry -- wrap their heads. It's like a crown."
McCormick was at the event selling jewelry made from acai berries. She says the money made from the necklaces goes to support a mobile medical unit to help women who live in the Brazilian rain forest get breast exams.

"We're making a statement about the indigenous peoples and protecting the rainforest and protecting women because the future needs them," she says.
Bringing different religious groups, ethnic communities, and cultures together in Detroit is not easy, but El-Amin seems to have found a way through a celebration of the global art of head-wrapping.

"This is a way to connect in a safe space through fashion, ethnicity, culture, and religion," she says.

Martina Guzmán is a reporter on race, culture, and social justice. Her work has appeared on National Public Radio, Latino USA on NPR, And PRI’s The World. Guzmán is the Detroit correspondent for the Takeaway, a nationally syndicated news show and a co-production of WNYC Radio and Public Radio International, in collaboration with The New York Times and WGBH Boston. Follow her on Twitter @MGuzman_Detroit.

All photos by Doug Coombe.

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