Veiled Constellations The Veil, Critical Theory, Politics, and Contemporary Society

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Megan MacDonald

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Abstract

The “Veiled Constellations: The Veil, Critical Theory, Politics, and Contemporary
Society” conference took place at York University’s Keele Campus
and at the University of Toronto on 3-5 June 2010. Sponsors included the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Toronto
Initiative for Iranian Studies, the Noor Cultural Centre, the Canadian Council
of Muslim Women, the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations,
and multiple departments and associations at both universities. The two graduate students who co-organized the conference, Melissa Finn and Arshavez
Mozafari, did an excellent job in choosing papers that highlighted the veil’s
multi-faceted appearances both in contemporary society and academic discourses
as something that is under-theorized and overlooked at the same time.
The event’s advertising and signage played with the tropes of overwritten
and overlooked, suggesting that veiled women can be both silenced and
subjected to “therapeutic, punitive attention” (Edward Said, Covering Islam,
xxxv-vi). For example, www.veiledconstellations.com shows two faceless
women veiled in black, a torrent of water flooding the scene and pouring over
them and through the ovals where their faces should be. This serves as a kind
of natural disaster or Armageddon trope on the body of Muslim women. A
prominent poster pictured a profiled woman wearing hijab, her face overwritten
with overlapping Arabic words, while alternating pink lines radiate
from behind her face, as if it were giving off light. A third poster offers the
common image of the exotic woman behind-the-veil, a partial photo of a
woman wearing niqab, her perfectly arched eyebrows perhaps challenging
the viewer to respond with the intrigued gaze, the desire to unveil her. While
these posters meant to undo tired images of Muslim women, their ambiguous
nature sometimes reinforced those very stereotypes ...

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