Iranian American artist Behnaz Farahi has presented an artistic musing on the face mask which takes on gender, male dominance, subversive communication, war, and the ability to adapt to hostile environments.
Deriving from the religio-cultural phenomenon of headscarves and face coverings in Iran, the artist explains that her visually captivating face masks are inspired by the Islamic tradition of the niqab. The niqab — which has repeatedly received mockery and criticism in the west — is a modesty-based face covering in which only the woman's eyes can be seen. In the context of Iran, Bandari women in the southern parts of the country wore the niqab to avoid the lingering gaze of slave masters.
In a Vimeo clip, Farahi explains that her face mask with the bright, unsettling, and green blinking eyes "offers a hi-tech commentary on how women might develop a language to subvert the control of patriarchy." Here's a video of the artist's intriguing and haunting work.
The theory — Farahi uses the theoretical work done by Gayatri Spivak who once wrote "Can the subaltern speak" in the seminal text that discussed colonialism in the neighboring subcontinent. Spivak argued that the removal of certain Hindu rites and traditions in the subcontinent was based on a savior complex by way of western colonial overlords. Farahi takes that text and slams it on the images of her face mask model. The text reads in both English, Farsi, and Morse code. Questions like "can the subaltern speak?" as well as "can women have a voice?" linger in the air.
The tech — Farahi explains that the interactive masks "begin to develop their own language to communicate with each other, blinking their eyelashes in rapid succession, using AI generated Morse code. The project draws upon a FaceBook experiment where – unnervingly – two AI bots began to develop their own language." It also derives, per Farahi, from the incident when the American soldier Jeremiah A. Denton Jr. blinked "torture" during the Vietnam War.
Through her masks, Farahi wants to deliver a feminist message of taking control of language and speaking it on women's terms beyond the conventional western style and, as she told Fast Company, toward "a non-Western perspective." It's a beautiful, unnerving, and mysterious spin on face masks, religious coverings, and everyday communication.