FIAC Unveiled


Following French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s prohibition of the burka and head veil in that nation’s work environments this summer, which initiated heated debates all over Europe, a number of galleries and artists participating in the 37th edition of Parisian art fair FIAC (October 21–24) presented work that looked at veiling and concealing, the “other'” and national identity. The collection of works at any art fair represents countless perspectives (and sales pitches), but whether motivated by site and contemporaneity or using the fair’s publicity and distribution mechanisms to foreground unheard voices, a variety of works looked to deal productively with France’s very present issues of post-colonialism and immigration.


The longtime ambassador for the silent women of the Middle East is Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, a staple of art fairs and an important interpreter of the mystical silences that are frequently attributed to veiled women worldwide. Neshat’s Faezah (2008), a still from the artist’s film Men Without Women, was shown at Jérôme de Noirmont of Paris. The piece comprises a photograph of a young girl, her face covered in Arabic script, illegible to a primarily Western audience.

Works by European and American artists were re-contextualized by the cultural climate. “When Heaven and Hell Change Places” (1992), a series of photographs by Robert Longo shown at the Hans Mayer Gallery, Düsseldorf, and which inspect the stereotypical, discriminating portrayal of Middle Eastern men as thugs. Longo’s black and white portraits of North African men with faces covered by balaclavas were installed in a grid on two facing walls on the booth. Through these mug shot-style portraits, Longo suggests an numb familiarity with the menacing format of. The work operates in a similar manner as Walid Raad’s My Neck Is Thinner Than a Hair (2001), organized in a same pattern to feature images of car accidents. Longo’s use of the covered, presumed-as-rebel male, also contrasts with the veiled, presumed-as-docile women’s faces. The work suggests that both genders of France’s Arabic population are de-differentiated by their high level of signification in the media.

French Artist Marc Turlan showed Exo-Star (2010) at the Anne de Villepoix Gallery of Paris, combining two portraits of girls and a boy whose face has been painted, shading the area that a veil would cover. Pasting a star on top of the face paint, reminiscent of the Flag of Islam. Turlan frequently works in fashion and media related projects-collages that distort advertisements to exaggerate and critique patterns of consumption.

In a hopeful gesture, three galleries showed works from Alighiero Boetti’s “Mappa” (1983) series (Tornobuoni Arte of Florence; Christian Stein, Milan; Sprüth Magers, Berlin). The famous embroided maps depict the world split up and quilted together into national and religious symbols, interrogating the notion of constructed identity. Through a contrast of arts and craft and international, potent signs, the artist suggests the slow crafting of contemporary identities, and the complexities of a multi-racial Europe. This ubiquitousness, in light of current events, brings a new dimension to the works.