Behind the Black Veil
All that I am begins with my body and gradually finds its way to others’ bodies. My body dresses itself in clothes, goes out, and observes other bodies and occasionally makes physical contact with them. My body is female, and its femininity is its most important aspect, because this plays a key role in deciding how it will behave with other bodies, both masculine and feminine.
Without my body, I have no existence – my body reaffirms my existence. Laws exist to police and control my body. For example, in one place I am forced to cover it, whereas in another I am free to display it. Without my body, I would be unable to feel pain and pleasure, two sensations that I often experience simultaneously. After my physical body with its various parts, I next consider my clothes. Others who decide what I wear and what they will expect to see me in all impose upon me. If I go to a formal party, I must dress up, but if I wear the same clothing at school, I would appear out of place. I cannot wear pajamas at a party at my neighbor’s house or I won’t be invited to her next party. If I am dating a masculine body, I am expected to wear the most feminine clothes in order to attract and arouse him. The only time I truly dress for myself is when I am alone in bed. Thus, my appearance represents the greater part of my identity. The rest is innate – where I am born, into what family I am born, and into what religion I am born. All I can do is transport my body and its decorations from place to place.
The performance took place on The University of Texas at Austin’s campus, and it was my first performance in a public space. I wore a black veil and a mask that covered my body and face completely. While being completely covered, I walked around with a video camera, following people on campus and recording them. A photographer was also following me with a still camera. The performance captured the mirroring effect of people’s gaze. Often people are looking at women whose dress is completely different, but now she is the person not only looking at them but also recording their images. So the function of the camera is to gaze back at the viewers. The woman has the power to see people, but no one can see her facial expressions. The initial idea began with a dark box or room. By that I wanted to make a space to limit people’s bodily movements and create a confined space to make them uncomfortable. The black veil plays the role of the dark box as well. It is the moment people feel unsafe to see the eyes observe them without knowing her identity. I see the piece challenging me as an observer and people being observed.
I was inspired by the work of Vito Acconci called SPECTATORE, in 1969 in the streets of New York. Acconci’s work can be described as follows: "The artist would randomly choose a person walking on the street, following them until a barrier of privacy separated the two. This would happen when the person entered a private space such as a house, a car, etc. The action could last a few minutes or several hours, depending on the subject movement: going inside public places like a restaurant or a movie theater would allow the "chase" to continue. Acconci continued this activity with a person per day for twenty-three days. He collected a written compendium of each of his followings, including notes on the person and route, later sending these documents to people involved in the art world."