Can the Subaltern Speak?, radical augmented gaze


The title of this work “Can the Subaltern Speak?“ is borrowed from a famous essay by feminist scholar Gayatri Spivak published in 2008. Spivak discusses how there is no account of the controversial Hindu Sati practice, in which a widow sacrifices herself by sitting atop her husband’s funeral pyre. This leads Spivak to ask whether the ‘subaltern’ can speak. The subaltern is a category defined by Antonio Gramsci, and Spivak strategically situates it within post-colonial discourse. When the subaltern becomes the woman suffering violence at home, but unable to speak up, a single-handed gesture that can be used to alert others that they need help in person or over a video call. Behnaz Farahi makes an outstanding synthesis of these two concepts, using two masks, which are inspired by “Niqab” masks worn by women in southern Iran. These allegedly originated during the Portuguese colonisation to protect “pretty women” from the gaze of slave masters. Those two masks are equipped with multiple mechanical ’eyes’, and their eyelashes blink swiftly using “AI generated Morse code”. Farahi (also author of “Caress Of The Gaze“) expertly combines distinct elements. The encryption used by the machines merges seamlessly with obsolete and abandoned code (Morse code) to produce a level of communication which can’t be interpreted instinctually by a gaze nor rationally by a brain. The potential “subversion of patriarchy” it enables exploits the complexity of the machine, to overturn the balance of power. This is a reformulation of the wink, converted from predatory tool to tool to protect. It is also a mesmerising combination of an animal sensitivity triggered by the wink, a technologically enhanced gaze, and the underlying indecipherable messages exchanged by the machines. A ‘radical augmented gaze’ is created and is comparable to a prototype technology from the future, now rooted in the masked, fragile and digital present.


Behnaz Farahi – Can the Subaltern Speak?