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, these masks can be seen as a means of oppressing women under patriarchal colonial rule.

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 – seemingly – 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.

interactive mask website
Above is an excerpt from an interactive 3D online exhibition which addresses the notion of the ‘gaze’ in our contemporary digital culture from political perspectives commissioned by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). Click here
“Returning the Gaze” is another interactive 3D online exhibition curated by Behnaz Farahi for Ars Electronica. Click here
Robotic masks
Video documentation of the live performance at the Innovation Space, CSULB .
  • Behnaz Farahi
  • Sussan Deyhim
    Special Thanks
  • Paolo Salvagione
  • Julian Ceipek