As a mixed, transracial, Arab-American artist, I often found myself affiliated with an identity from which I felt very disconnected. Yet in the Midwestern-American culture in which I had been raised, images of Arab men wrapped in headscarves were not uncommon in the news while referring to wars, or in video games like Call of Duty. In fact, it seemed to be the only image of the Arab man readily available from the American perspective. Because of the saturation of this kind of image in the culture I belonged, it was my closest tie to the culture to which I was frequently perceived to belong.
This piece is my attempt to further understand how an item of apparel can create or override an identity, particularly in a place where it is found to be exotic. I decided to learn how to wrap a kufiya, or shemagh; my only sources were YouTube videos—almost all of which included combat fatigues, references or allusions to assault rifles, and in one case a derogatorily fake accent. None of them seemed to discuss the socio-political associations that belong to this appropriated fashion trend. Most of these same videos were instructional guides referring to the wrapping of a shemagh as "how the bad guys do it" or "terrorist-style." When YouTube users objected to this labeling as inaccurate and offensive via comments, they were largely fought against by the videos' posters or other users. This is not surprising, given the amount of controversy a kufiya wrapped casually around one's neck has caused when distributed in commercials or displayed on models in clothing stores in the United States. And because of this, learning how to tie a kufiya—in the way depicted most frequently in the media as distinctly Arabic—was necessarily accompanied by the implication that people who wear this are somehow malicious.
The end product of this process is 15 wax-cast mannequin heads, all donning makeshift kufiyas tied from various printed fabrics and one Chinese-produced "designer keffiyeh." The mannequin heads range in color, height, and physical blemishes, but all are only shin-high, lined up facing the viewer 's feet on a concrete floor.