Friday, February 17, 2006
Hijabspotting: Cat Power
I frequently kufiyaspot on this blog, but rarely bother with the hijab, or alternately, veil, or alternately, Islamic dress. Hijabs are just too obvious, for the most part, whereas kufiyas, much more subtle. (Not of course if worn over the head, but as a scarf, yes.)
But here's a case where the symbolic usage of the hijab is pretty inscrutable, and more interesting to discuss. It's from a video for Cat Power's song "Living Proof," off her new, widely hailed album The Greatest, recorded in Memphis.
As Kelefa Sanneh notes, the Cat Power vid opens with what appears to be a tribute to a video by Mafia rappers Three 6 Mafia video that features group members drinking coffee syrup out of baby bottles. Chan Marshall (who records as Cat Power) is wearing a 2Pac hoody and drinking cough syrup out of a baby bottle together with a black man. (Cough syrup is the preferred intoxicant of the great rappers in Houston who produce a southern brand of hip-hop known as "screw.") But the more remarkable feature of the video is this. Chan Marshall takes off her hoody and puts a large white cross over her back, and, dressed in a red catsuit, races around a track with several women dressed in the kind of veils and Islamic dress typically worn in Iran. (The outfits look a bit sloppily conceived, not exactly what women wear in Iran.) Chan comes in second. She and the veiled first and third place medalists raise clenched fists, evoking the black power salutes of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
I have no idea how to read this vid. Is the cross carried by Chan/Cat supposed to represent a burden, the analog of the religious burden of the Islamic dress worn by the other runners? Is Chan/Cat's red catsuit also supposed to represent a burden, the female burden of "looking good for men"? One of the veiled women is shown jumping over a hurdle in the course of the footrace. Does this suggest that Islamic dress is not a burden for women, since it doesn't hinder them from participating in athletic activity? Do the clenched fists a moment of female solidarity, transcending religious divisions? And why is Chan/Cat drinking cough syrup with her black companion/boyfriend?
I have no idea what the answers are, but I love the questions the video raises...
Cat Power, hijab