Thoughts on facelessness: imagining niqab.
Thinking about the accidental confluence of genes that renders a particular phenotype, a particular face. In the process of a recent Security Screening at JFK, an airport officer told me, comfortingly, that I was “easy to read.” I hope he’s wrong, but I know what he means: I have a lucky face. It’s one of my superpowers: the appearance of openness. Simple face, complex intentions. My open face helps to make my existence easier. Chance encounters are often cordial; bargaining often goes in my favor; strangers often exhibit small kindnesses when I need them. I know that this is a privilege – not everyone is treated so gently, so consistently, by their fellow humans.
I know a few stunningly beautiful women, people with overwhelming sexual magnetism. I’m glad to have been spared their burden: I see how they are hounded and pestered every place they go. A face is obligatory, an unremitting responsibility. I can imagine having a different face, a face-to-launch-a-thousand-ships – I think I would shrink from the expectations borne of such an appearance. I imagine ways to deprive the world, to subtract opportunities for presumption. I would like the option of unlearning arts learned in girlhood: I would like to discard the intention to control my face, regulate my expression, hold my mouth properly, reveal little, restrain the exposure of teeth. I imagine facelessness, not needing to practice lying with a false smile, deriding with an arched eyebrow, producing moues of feigned disappointment. A truly open face: the face concealed.
I imagine wearing niqab, gliding facelessly through grocery stores, security checkpoints, crowds boarding the train, a panel of dark mesh obscuring even (especially!) the eyes. I imagine being indescribable, appearing on surveillance videos and in police reports as a black-cloaked mass of indeterminate composition. An unreadable sigil. I imagine the complexity and grace of a highly refined gestural vocabulary. Veiling as the discipline of blindness: a blindness which constricts, certainly, but which also re-concentrates, sharpens, opens. I imagine the motions of the hands, the carriage of the spine and shoulders, becoming specific and intense. As intense as the way a blind man listens, as intense as his concentration when he touches with his preternaturally sensitive fingerpads. Would our faces, veiled, grow innocent and unfettered? Would they unlearn deception, while our hands took over the duty? I imagine the moments of unveiling, beholding the unpracticed face, the unmediated, naked face, the face unaccustomed to being observed. Would that innocence be a form of freedom?
(Thanks to Al’Izzatullilah for the photograph.)