MY LAND IS ME: Four Artists Explore “The Veil” was a collaborative multimedia installation among four artists–poet Veronica Golos, painter Nancy Delpero, sculptor Deborah Rael-Buckley, and photographer Robbie Steinbach–held at the Rane Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, in November 2009
MY LAND IS ME delves into the idea of “The Veil,” an ubiquitous and iconic image with various and complex meanings in the East and the West. The artists explore representations of the Veil with an eye to framing and re-framing the viewer’s perception.
“As four Western women artists, we are acutely aware of the dangers inherent in tackling this subject,” explains photographer Robbie Steinbach. “We began by discussing veils in the Western world: for example, the wedding veil and taking the veil in religious orders, as well as lesser-recognized ‘veils’ such as the protective veil of make-up and plastic surgery, the hip-hop girl’s baggy unisex clothing, even the veil of nakedness (the woman seen but not valued for her self). In the West, where the nude is ubiquitous and women are completely open to the male gaze in the media and public life, the allure of the veil can be considerable.”
Poet Veronica Golos quotes Fadwa el-Guindi from her book Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance: “In the East, historically and presently, veiling is a rich and nuanced phenomenon, a language that communicates social and cultural messages.” Golos points out that in Algeria under French colonialism, there was intense preoccupation with the veiled female body, and post cards of women in chadors were widely disseminated. But even then it was not a simple case of empowerment vs. disempowerment, adds Golos. According to writer Franz Fanon, “This woman who sees without being seen frustrates the colonizer. There is no reciprocity. She does not yield herself, does not give herself, does not offer herself.”
Sculptor Deborah Rael-Buckley points out that “the veil seems to stop the gaze, throwing it back, so to speak, on the viewer–a self-reflection. This kind of looking is contrary to the gaze of one who considers himself ‘superior’ to those conquered or exploited.” Rael-Buckley adds that for her work, “the veil seems to be a metaphor for hiding and revealing; a kind of film over a woman filled with archetypical memory and re-membering.”
“This oscillation of gaze and political ambition, conquest and resistance, is what so appeals to us,” says painter Nancy Delpero. “That a woman today in Afghanistan or Iraq might choose to wear the veil in the face of the West’s reiteration of it being backward, oppressive, not modern, so very other, seems a counter-click.” The veil emerges as a symbol in flux, and the four artists of this project hope not to offer simple answers, but to raise questions about perception, difference, and power.