Monday, June 07, 2010

Kufiyas: new & old (Mavi Marmara, Spike Lee, Madonna)

New kufiyas

Like all Palestinosymps, I've been following the Gaza flotilla outrage obsessively. It has been impressively covered--although not, of course, by the mainstream media in the US. (Did Maddow or Olbermann give it any meaningful coverage?)

My comments are just a side note, motivated by my kufiya obsession. I watched a bit of the live feed from the Turkish vessel, the Mavi Marmara, right before the Israeli attack. One of the things that I noticed was that everyone seemed to be wearing kufiyas of some sort--as scarfs, as headgear, and so on. I did not realize at the time that the passengers on the boat were mostly Turks, mostly affiliated with the IHH.

But it was not just the Turks, it was everyone, it seemed. Here's a photo captured from the live feed, an interview with a British-Asian woman with a red kufiya wrapped around her neck (I did not catch her name).

And here's a photo of one of the Turkish passengers who was wounded in the Israeli assault, from a report from Al Jazeera English which conducted interviews in Istanbul with several of the wounded. (The US media, of course, saw fit to do no such interviews.) Several of the interviewees were adorned with kufiya-patterned scarves and Palestinian flags.

Here's a photo of Irish activist, spokesperson for the Free Gaza Movement, which sponsored the flotilla, together with the IHH. (I have lost her name: someone help!) [added, June 8: it's Caiomhe Butterly]

Here's a photo of the ship the Rachel Corrie, with its crew of Irish and Malaysian humanitarians, before it was launched on its mission.

And the kufiya was so scary for the Israelis that it showed up in one of the propaganda photos put out by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to illustrate to what extent the passengers on the Mavi Marmara were armed and ready to "lynch" the Israeli military personnel who landed on the vessel.

So you get the (perhaps all-too-obvious) point. Ubiquity of kufiyas in the Gaza flotilla.

Here's a somewhat silly kufiya item, in my opinion. (No doubt my take on this is influenced by Angry Arab, who is constantly making fun of the seemingly never-ending efforts in Lebanon to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, by making the biggest tabbouleh or the biggest kunafeh or the biggest hummos or whatever.) The world's biggest kufiya, certified as such by the Guinness Book, was put together in an effort to publicize the 62nd anniversary of the Nakba and to call attention to the plight of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, whose conditions are abysmal. The kufiya was sewn by children and youth groups from Lebanon's 12 Palestinian refugee camps. I'm all in favor of calling attention to the Nakba and in particular the dire situation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. They and their conditions have been criminally ignored, particularly since the so-called "peace process" was launched in the early 90s. But using the Guinness Book as a means of publicity? Symptomatic of the Lebanese disease diagnosed by Angry Arab.

Old kufiyas

I've beem trying to put the current "kufiya craze" in historical context, arguing that there is a history, going back to the early 70s, of the kufiya being used for both political and stylistic purposes in the US. And, I would argue, the line between the two is not fixed and rigid, but rather, fluid, and hard, at times, to delineate. Here are two examples.

From the Village Voice in 1992 (November 10), a photo of Spike Lee, who has just released his Malcolm X movie. (The photo accompanies an article by Hilton Als on Spike and his new film.) How to read the kufiya here? It was all over New York City, worn by hipsters, by lefty politicos, by African-Americans. What sort of message is Spike broadcasting here, in his kufiya and his X baseball cap. Style and politics are intimately linked here, mutually interdependent.

And here is Madonna. Thanks to Nihal for this. I guess this photo is from around 1981-1984, when the kufiya was showing up in the downtown NYC scene, in hip circles.

The kufiya probably circulated with the same white kids who were the first to get into hip-hop, as documented by Jeff Chang in his invaluable Can't Stop Won't Stop. Madonna was part of the crowd at the Roxy, the downtown club that was the first to feature hip-hop, imported from the Bronx. One of the most important hip-hop pioneers in that group was Afrika Bambaata. Here's a photo of him, in faux kufiya.

Clearly more research is needed on the dates of the Madonna and the Bam photos. And, inshallah, a better copy of the Madonna photo.


Abdul-Halim V. said...

Is that really madonna with a kiffeyah? It looks a little like a leopard print. Maybe it will be clearer with a better picture?

Also, did you see Aziz Ansari host the MTV video awards?

Ted Swedenburg said...

Sorry about the quality, it really is a kufiya on Madonna. I did not see Aziz Ansari on the MTV vid awards. I will have a look, thanks!

Ted Swedenburg said...

I have no worked a bit on the image, and the kufiya pattern should show more clearly.