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Essay

Essay: Run for the Shadows

by Nilgin Yusuf on 23 July 2008

Fashion Writer Nilgin Yusuf on the contemporary semiotics of the covered head.

Fashion Writer Nilgin Yusuf on the contemporary semiotics of the covered head.

Image from Raf Simons’ Spring/Summer 2002 show, August 2001

In the twenty first century, the simple act of pulling on a hood or headscarf has become a political statement. The space between the base of the neck and top of the head has become a site of power politics where individuals, society, government and the law jockey for position. On the one hand, the covered head, which covers the sports-based hoodie to the religious hijab, is a dangerous sign, one that links the wearer to potential terrorism, crime and transgression.

For every crisis moment: armed raid, knife crime, hostage scene, terror alert or suicide bombing, there is likely to be a covered head paraded in the media, underlining our fears and stoking our deepest anxieties. In the collective unconscious, the hooded face evokes the terror of nightmares: the executioner, rapist, armed intruder. In these times of uncertainty and dread, the media has provided a visible enemy, one we recognise and can categorise. Somehow, this makes the prevailing climate of paranoia manageable. More endurable.

At a time when civil liberties are being eroded and identity theft is rife, donning a hoodie or head scarf is about self-preservation

On the flip side of this power equation, we see the covered head is not, as the media would have us believe, the garb of attack but of defence. The hoodie and hijab represent the ultimate in resistance clothing. With Andy Warhol’s prophesy now a reality; fame really is available to everyone for fifteen minutes or more and voyeurism has been redefined as the great national pastime, the new powerful elite is the anonymous, incognito, and the resolutely private.

At a time when civil liberties are being eroded and identity theft is rife, donning a hoodie or head scarf is about self-preservation; protecting that which we hold most precious. It’s about individuals refusing to be chipped and pinned, refusing to be beeped in and out of monitored spaces, refusing to be tracked by the all-seeing eye of CCTV. It amounts to a refusal of intrusive state control, a genius way to slip the net and go off grid. In this world of extreme self-exposure, the covered head allows us to cast ourselves in shadows of our own making. In the Post-Millennial era, we have come to exist, not in the bright glare of cameras but the comforting dark spaces in between.

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