Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kufiyas in the video for MIA's, "Born Free" -- and a note on my kufiya lecture

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.
If you read this blog you were probably already aware of this video. In fact, you are probably one of the many people who wrote to me to tell me about it. And if you read this blog, you no doubt notice that I've really slacked off for the last few months. One of the things that has been going on is that I've been posting a lot to facebook. But I have realized that, while the social interaction of facebook is something I like, my posts there nonetheless are only seen by a few people, and they leave no permanent record. So, I've decided to re-commit to hawgblawg.

The video, directed by the son of the celebrated director Constantinos Costa-Gavras, shows male "gingers" (redheads) being rounded up and then forced to run through a minefield. It's clearly meant to be a kind of allegory for the persecution of ethnic minorities, and leaves itself open to a variety of interpretations. Is it meant to be about the persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka? Of Mexicans without papers in Arizona? It seems to be up to the viewer. But there are two clear references. The mural that is seen while the bus carrying the prisoners drives through town looks very reminiscent of the kind that one might have seen in Belfast, especially given the look of the redheads it depicts. And the mural reads, "Our Day Will Come," which was in fact an IRA slogan.
And of course there are the kufiyas, with their unmistakable Palestine reference. Gingers garbed in red kufiyas, wrapped so as to partially disguise their faces, appear in the video at about 4:06.

They are hiding around a corner, waiting to make their assault on the armored bus carrying the prisoners.

They launch some stones and bottles, in a manner very reminiscent of the iconic Palestinian stone throwers of the two intifadas.

Their attack does no damage to the vehicles, and the drivers don't pay attention and do not slow down. The kufiya clad attackers, however, appear to be pleased that they at least made the effort. They raise their arms above their had, as if signaling victory, or perhaps solidarity with the prisoners. The prisoners make no visible response.

The video is quite bloody and graphic. I am not sure that it is particularly effective as a political allegory--but it sure did manage to attract a lot of comment and attention, both positive and negative.

I do quite like the MIA song. The lyrics, when you work them out, are really quite non-political and non-incendiary, and have really next to nothing to do with the video itself, whose purpose seems to have been more to gain publicity for the song rather than make any kind of explicit political point. The kufiya, then, seems to serve more as a kind of iconic sartorial item of struggle, in the vaguest of senses.

I gave a lecture entitled "Keffiyeh: From Resistance Symbol to Retail Item" at the Palestine Center on April 6, 2010. You can view the video here. Comments are welcome.

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