Monday, August 31, 2009

Kufiya roundup: Fateh, DJ Rodrigo, Haifa, M-1, The Hurt Locker, Leila Khaled, DC, NYC, ties, and high fashion

PNA President Mahmoud Abbas, in the middle (Haytham Othman/MaanImages)

Here is the dead, the dessicated, the sucked-of-all life kufiya, as deployed by the dreadful mass assembled at the Fateh general conference, convened in Bethlehem earlier this month. Yasir Arafat was no angel, but at least he was the leader of a liberation movement. As a whole, the movement's leadership was corrupt, but at least it had the noble goal of national liberation. This new, post-Arafat crowd, headed by the atrocious Mahmoud Abbas, are simply Israel's and the US's guards in proxy of the concentration camp, the ghetto that is the Palestine National (sic) Authority. They have turned the kufiya into a kind of symbolic fetish, that all wear draped around their shoulders. As Sousan Hamad reported in Electronic Intifada, "As Abbas waited for his turn to read from what seemed like an inevitable 60-page speech, a man walked around the aisles handing out cheaply-made, Fatah-branded kuffiyehs (the traditional checkered scarf) to delegates and journalists. He insisted everybody wear it for the cameras." Abbas' own kufiya scarf was a bit fancier, with the Palestinian flag sewn into the ends.

Of course Fateh was too cheap to make any effort to support national kufiya production, seeing as how the organization is now all about neo-liberalization and capitalist globalization as the path to liberation. Meanwhile, University of Arkansas International Studies graduate Chris Wylie, and former student of mine, made a trip to Hebron where he bought his own, authentic, national production Palestinian kufiya, from the Hirbawi factory, the last remaining kufiya producer of kufiyas in Palestine. Bravo, Chris. Hmmm, if a young man from Arkansas could get to Hebron to buy a kufiya, why couldn't Abbas & Co. find their way there?

Despite Fateh's efforts to claim ownership of this symbol of resistance, there are lots of signs that its control is resisted. Check out the photos from this PANET article (in Arabic) about a hip-hop benefit for Gaza, held in Haifa, Israel in March--kufiyas are everywhere! Among the artists who performed: Awlad al-Hara (Nazareth), DAM (Lyd), Shadia Mansour (UK), The Patriarchs (US), Bihrang Mar'i (Sweden), and Lucky (UK).

Colombian DJ Rodrigo is also down with the kufiya. Go here to check out his latest release, through Indigenous Radio (IR), and go here to get a podcast of DJ Rodrigo, live mixing for IR. (Thanks to Dave Watts for alerting me to this.)

If you've not had enough of kufiyas, you could also purchase a limited edition Leila Khaled print, by Jesus Barraza, to benefit the Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine, now in progress.

According Muhaafiz Khan, writing in the blog As-Sabiqun, the act of converting to Islam has now become hip among African-American youths in the roughest neighborhoods of Washington, DC. And along with taking the shehadeh, apparently, comes wearing the kufiya. Khan writes:

The trend [of conversion] is still very much alive today, and it seems to have spread all across DC. As strange as it may sound to the suburbanite believer, it has now become en vogue in inner-city DC to be a Muslim; it is "cool" to sport a colorful kufi or Palestinian-style keffiyeh. Young brothers in thobes are becoming an increasingly common sight. Scented oils are in high demand. It is not uncommon to hear the greeting of "As-salamu 'alaikum" while walking down the street (that is, if you are obviously a Muslim).

Khan goes on to say that Islam is not just a "look" and external practice, and he expresses the hope that "with their constant expoure to the message (Jumu'ah khutbahs are hardly missed), some of it is bound to sink in and take root."

And you think kufiyas are no longer cool in New York City? Check out this guy, recently photographed on the New York subway by my friend Dave, a fellow kufiyaspotter, on the #1 train, Uptown, 125th and Broadway stop. The gentleman had fake vampire fangs in his mouth too. Dave calls it Harlem Punk Kufi.

And back in Palestine, here's a hot of a very stylish kufiya tie. I love it! Thanks to Rochelle, who alerted me to it, and to Howaida Arraf (an activist in ISM), who gave me permission to reproduce it here. The tie wearer is her brother, Wadeh.

Now a postscript on The Hurt Locker, which I finally got to see. Earlier I posted a photo of the character played by Ralph Fiennes. As my friend Carolina pointed out to me before I saw the film, he is wearing full-blown kufiya, as is the rest of his crew in the film. The Explosive Ordinance Disposal squad, protagonists of the film, comes upon them in the desert. When they first spot them, they think Fiennes & co. are insurgents, since they are in kufiyas. The disposal squad describe what they are wearing as 'haji' wear. Fiennes and his crew are not regular military, they're hunting most-wanted Iraqis, and have two guys who appear in the set of playing cards the US military developed to identify them. Meanwhile--as Carolina also pointed out--the bomb squad member played by Brian Geraghty also wears a kufiya, but it's quite subtle--a khaki scarf that seems to blend into his uniform. And, given that the scarf is khaki colored and not black-and-white or red-and-white, it's also "hipster."

M-1 of Dead Prez was recently in Gaza, as part of the Viva Palestina delegation. He writes about the experience here. Kufiyas were, as you might expect, worn by many in the delegation. M-1 describes what happened as the group approached the border:

On a comfortable chartered bus I daydreamed and listened to one the head organizers, Nancy, deejay to our anxiety and excitement. One of my favorite songs is the one that demanded us to “wave our kufiyas in the air!” which many of us wore. Even though they have become a passing fashion statement, we wore the red and white ones, and I felt extremely proud when the brothers got together to wave our red, black and green Liberation flag in the immigration office as they chanted loud enough for the people to hear us on the other side in Gaza.

I wish I knew what song that was! Note that red-and-white kufiyas have now become associated with Hamas, in the Palestine context. Here's a photo of M-1 from the post; I don't know who the guy is with him.

Do you remember when the kufiya was in all the fashion shows? In case you forgot: here are some 2008 photos of models dressed in "Fashion Week Style," from the fashion blog Jak & Jil. (Thanks, Rochelle!)

Sessilee Lopez, Peter Pilotto fashion show

Maryna Linchuk, Louis Vuitton fashion show

Hanne Gaby Odiele, Chloé fashion show

Is that enough kufiyas for now?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Performance addendum

I just finished reading this very illuminating and informative account of Performance, the 1971 film starring Mick Jagger and James Fox. I wrote a post on Performance two years ago, after seeing the film a second time, some 26 years after my first viewing. I was struck, on second view, by all the Orientalist hippy themes, the decor, the Hassan-i-Sabbah references, the Persian music in the soundtrack.

I learned a lot from this review, including the rather stunning fact that the highly-regarded film critic Colin MacCabe considers Performance the best British film ever made (in his 2008 book for BFI, Performance). And that the Moroccan style set for the interior of Turner's (Mike Jagger) house was designed by the collector and antique dealer Christopher Gibbs.

Read about him here, in this article in the New York Times, and you learn that in 2000 he had four residences, two of them in Morocco (one in Tangier).

Gibb's association with Jagger, and Morocco, goes way back, as an article on Rolling Stones locations tells us:

48 CHEYNE WALK, SW10 (London)

Mick Jagger bought this fashionable Queen Anne town house in May 1968 for £50,000 and hired designer Christopher Gibbs (see 98 Cheyne Walk) to redecorate the place.

Since visiting Morocco in 1958, Gibbs had been an enthusiast for all things Moroccan; arguably, it was Gibbs more than anyone who initiated the late-Sixties hippie craze for Morrocan art and culture (not least, hash). It was this same style that Gibbs introduced to Jagger’s new house, turning it into a “Moroccan bazaar” of drapes, pillows, ornate, painted furniture, brass lamps and fixtures. During the course of his work, Gibbs also came up with the title for the Stones' next album, Beggars Banquet. There was nothing beggarly about Gibbs’ redecoration, however, which cost Jagger a small fortune...

Reportedly, for all its quaint, cottage-like charm from the outside, once through the front door of the house, the ambience changed dramatically. The Gibbs-designed decor evoked the lush decadence of a Turkish harem or opium den (very similar, apparently, to the interior of the Jagger character’s house in the film Performance: see Lowndes Square). The blinds were kept closed, even during the day, the vast living room with its immense, Citizen Kane-style fireplace would usually be lit by just a single table lamp. Jagger liked to pad about the place in women’s slippers, wearing heavy Arabian kohl eye make-up and – when the mood took him - one of Faithful’s frocks.

The same source tells us this about Gibbs' own house:


Location of designer Christopher Gibbs’ sprawling, wood-panelled apartment – located just a few doors down from Mick Jagger’s. (NB. Another account gives Gibbs’ address as 96.)

Originally part of Lindsay House, built in 1645, Gibbs’ apartment was the epicentre of London’s bohemian Chelsea set during the 1960s. Lindsay House itself originally comprised nos 95-101 Cheyne Walk (impressionist painter James Whistler lived briefly at 101), but was split up into apartments in 1775.

Situated on the first floor, and boasting a splendid view of a lavish back garden and ancient mulberry tree (reputedly, England’s oldest), chez Gibbs was done out like a scene from the Arabian Nights, and wild all-night drug parties were frequent. “At every turn there were Moorish lanterns, leather camel saddles and jewel-like Persian carpets – all viewed through an acrid haze of burning incense,” wrote Christopher Andersen in Jagger Unauthorized. “Guests draped in caftans or Victorian lace luxuriated on huge embroidered cushions strewn about the floor.” Jagger, the Stones and Paul McCartney were regular visitors here, along with “the select pipe-dreamers of Sixties Chelsea: poets and mystics, artists and musicians, courtesans, hustlers and hangers-on.”

Cult director Michaelangelo Antonioni used Gibbs’ house as the setting for the famous party scene in his enigmatic Sixties thriller, Blow-Up.

Until I read the article on Performance earlier this morning, I knew nothing about Gibbs and his Moroccanist influence on the British rock aristocracy. I had thought that Brion Gysin was the main vector of influence (especially via Jajouka). It turns out that Gibbs was thick with the Tangier set, that included, of course, Jane and Paul Bowles, Brion Gysin and Mohamed Hamri. I've read a lot about Tangier and its illustrious and scandalous expats and foreign visitors, but hadn't known about Gibbs and his importance. This will set me off on even more research. But I need to finish that book. And now, I need to go to the Farmer's Market and buy some arugula (gargir in Egyptian Arabic).

Footnote: The same source that tells us about Jagger's and Gibbs' houses informs us that Anita Pallenberg, Keith Richards' girlfriend, who appeared in Performance, was enamored of filmmaker Kenneth Anger, and traveled to Cairo to shoot on location for Lucifer Rising. What I remember most of the Cairo scenes of Lucifer Rising, however, is Myriam Gibril, who plays Isis.

Myriam Gibril, it turns out, was the long-time lover of Donald Cammell, the co-director (with Nicholas Roeg) of Performance. Cammell appears as Osiris in Lucifer Rising. And Cammell has said that Kenneth Anger was “the major influence at the time I made Performance”, much of which is “directly attributable” to him.

And the Turner character in Performance is thought to be based on the actual life of the Rolling Stone Bryan Jones, who was so enamored with the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

God, another avenue, or avenues, for research.