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Paris: another female voice overwhelmed by men

Our readers well-know our love affair with fine and performance artist, Amir Baradaran. He is a border hopper speaking on the topic of borders - how can we resist?

And yet so many strong and violent words are flooding European networks in reaction to his most recent work, Frenchising Mona Lisa. Words like defaced, unthinkable, raped and anti-colonialist swine (our personal favorite). Oh, the power of art!

Baradaran began his 52-second performance on January 27, 2011 which, using an Augmented Reality iPhone application, alters any image of the Mona Lisa - original or reproduction. Changing the time-honored and cherished Mona Lisa ruffles feathers, period. But to thoroughly "infiltrate" our minds (as an "infiltration artist" ought to do), Baradaran has swapped Mona Lisa's garments with a hijab. Worn by women of Islamic faith, the hijab covers the head and shoulders, but does not necessarily cover the face as the more controversial niqab (covering the face but not always the eyes) and burqa (covering the entire face & body).

A demonstration:

Many people are crying of national identity. Immigrants to France from Middle Eastern countries have sparked a wide debate concerning the freedom of Islamic French residents to sport their religious garbs. Watching the news footage on Baradaran's work, we suddenly began to wonder: what does Mona Lisa think about all this? A man painted her. Men installed her into the Louvre and have worshiped her ever since. A male artist is digitally redressing her. Men are squawking and punching each other over her fate, her meaning, her freedom. If only paintings could talk. And yet, in a curious way, Baradaran is giving her a voice.

Her voice will not be heard simply by watching his installation. More importantly - and we wonder how many people are bothering to do this? - reading his artist statement on the subject suggests that he cares more for Mona Lisa than do the defenders of French democracy:
My fascination with Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa stems from the historical process of her “naturalization,” whereby a representation of an Italian noblewoman became an icon of France. She was the decor of a despot, a refugee of war, an object of nationalist lust and locus of public protest. The painting has become a bellwether and a site of cultural projection, essentially disconnected from its own story.

In its own way, so is the hijab. Roughly translated as “modesty,” its ancient origins transcend Muslim norms. Whether intended as a sign of freedom for some or seen as a sign of repression for others, the cultures of the hijab are as complex as the contexts in which they are practiced. In contemporary France, the hijab has become a lightning rod about “Frenchness,” a visual threat to the ideals of the so-called secular state.

You can - and should - read more of the statement here >>

Frenchising Mona Lisa is adding fuel to the fire of an existing debate. It suggest why Mona Lisa has smiled at us so suggestively throughout the centuries; as if her painter somehow knew her fate, he lent her enigmatic nature as a perfect complement to her silence. We wonder where is her voice now, ever - perhaps she hasn't one at all, and that is all right. Because then we might recognize how desperate we are as humans to erect monuments and inscribe our own voices upon them. Baradaran invites us to look more closely, more deeply at the meaning and origin of our words, symbols and practices. He speaks to the transient nature of reality and existence, and warns against the misconception of stasis. This goes over most people's heads, unfortunately. The artist's fate. Nationalism and belief in freedom from oppressive religion are powerful forces working against him.

Others are repulsed by his seemingly flagrant self-promotional tactics (see: Forbes). Whether or not Baradaran is angling for self-promotion? We could care less. As fellow artists and believers in art as expression, expression as communication, communication as a means to change and change as a means to improvement - we feel we're on the same page. Self-promotion is only an issue when a person is not putting forth valuable ideas; this is hardly the case with Frenchising Mona Lisa.

Learn more about this installation and Amir Baradaran's works on amirbaradaran.com.
Watch BBC footage on Frenchising Mona Lisa >>

View related posts on Baradaran's work:
The Other Artist Is Present
Poetic Quarrels

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