In her seminal article “Can The Subaltern Speak?” feminist theorist, Gayatri Spivak, asks whether it might be possible for the colonized – the subaltern – to have a voice in the face of colonial oppression. How might we reframe this same question in the context of contemporary digital culture? How could we find a way for the subaltern to speak that would also undermine the power of the oppressor?

This project is inspired by the intriguing historical masks worn by the Bandari women from southern Iran. Legend has it that these masks were developed during Portuguese colonial rule, as a way of protecting the wearer from the gaze of slave masters looking for pretty women. Viewed from a contemporary perspective, they can be seen as a means of protecting women from patriarchal colonial oppression.

In this project two masks begin to develop their own language to communicate with each other, blinking their eyelashes in rapid succession, using AI generated Morse code. The project draws upon a FaceBook experiment where – unnervingly – two AI bots began to develop their own language. It also draws upon an incident when an American soldier used his eyes to blink the word "TORTURE" using Morse Code during his captivity in Vietnam, and stories of women using code to report domestic abuse during the COVID19 lockdown. Here the ‘wink’ of the sexual predator is subverted into a language to protect women from the advances of a predator. This project involves AI, interactive design and critical thinking.

More information is coming soon.

Robotic masks