Friday, September 13, 2013

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I AM NOT WHAT I APPEAR TO BE: The #DieselReboot Burqa ad according to the Muslim woman who helped conceive it.

By Ameena Meer @takeoutcreative

In my honest opinion, the most unfounded complaint about the #DieselReboot denim burqa ad is that the woman is white.

Rewind: 1. I work in advertising, 2. I actually concepted the ideas behind the #Dieselreboot with the Artistic Director, Nicola Formichetti, 3. I am a Muslim woman and 4. I don’t cover

Obviously, anyone brown skinned (Muslim or not) knows how hard it was after September 11, 2001 or in the midst of the Park51 controversy. Xenophobia was out of control. And every anniversary of September 11 brings it back in a 24-hour free-for-all of ignorant vitriol spewed by Pamela-Gellar-types. If you are brown, you duck and cover or hang plastic American flags all over.

However, there are Muslims who are white. And any lighter-skinned Muslim women who veiled in the past few years know that life was not much easier for them.  Sometimes, it was harder – like for my half-European-half-Pakistani friend who was stopped and questioned for hours in the airport about whether her husband forced her to convert. I also have white women friends who cover who are not Muslim.  Being white and wearing a burqa is not the same as being white and wearing blackface. Mainly, because many Muslims believe that the burqa is a cultural tradition not a religious obligation, therefore it’s not an integral part of being a Muslim woman.

The idea behind the #DieselReboot campaign is that today we are all slashers  – Accountant/Musician, Coffee shop worker/Instagram star, Bank teller/Director, Insurance salesperson/travel writer – we have multiple identities and multiple lives. The economy has made it impossible to be survive as an artist, but social media has freed us to express and explore our talents in ways we never realized were possible.

All of a sudden, you can’t judge anyone by what they look like. #DieselReboot asks people to come out and expose their creativity on tumblr, vine, twitter and instagram. Nicola chose some of the most interesting work and paid to feature it in The New York Times, giving underground creatives mainstream recognition. For the #DieselReboot Teaser or pre-campaign, Nicola Formichetti made a series of “uniforms” in Diesel denim. There was a pope’s robe, a soldier’s uniform, a strait jacket, a torture victim, a gang member or graffiti artist’s gear and, of course, the burqa.

The models, who are all social media personalities, chose the identity they wanted to experiment with.  A girl (known as "boychild" is not Catholic) wore the pope’s robes, a creative dressed like a gang member, and so on. (I should add that the “pope” images were projected on building in Rome to no major fanfare).

Each image asks you to question what you believe about what you see. Instead of seeing a woman in a burqa as someone oppressed or even Muslim – there is a woman who is wearing it by choice (like lots of women who cover), who is self-possessed and who has a powerful inner life. Instead of denigrating women who cover by choice, she is wearing it in solidarity and showing that they are no less by making that choice. As Nicola said, “This is a woman owning her burqa. She’s transforming what some people see as a symbol of oppression, religion or tradition, into a symbol of empowerment, solidarity and beauty. “

The fascination with hidden faces started long ago. There are the masked balls of Venice, there are the masks worn for BDSM games, European princesses and every day brides wore veils that hid their faces. It’s not just “Eastern Promise,” with the veil, it’s our human attraction to the half-known, the imagined, the excitement about a conceal and reveal.

Nicola Formichetti isn’t the first fashion person to have been inspired by ritual clothing and uniforms and the way in which wearing them changes our senses of self. Every few years, there is an interest in nuns and monks.

Jean-Paul Gaultier experimented with the clothes of the Hasidic Jews in 1993, and burqas have been done all over Paris, while Hussein Chalyan cut them to the knees. and of course, there are the famous Alexander McQueen chadors at the Met.

Currently, a photographer, Andrea Stern, has created a collection of children in religious schools, teams, squads, recording the way in which we create ourselves.

And that’s what fashion – or clothing in general - is really about, isn’t it? Very few people wear it just to stave off the elements. We express and explore our identities. We customize. Look at schoolchildren in uniforms. We wear our hearts on our sleeves. But whatever we do, we should never reduce anyone to what we believe they appear to be. We are so much more than the sum of our parts.