A pink taxi

A pink taxi

June 17, 2010

A Face in Translation

by Shirin Neshat

"Ce regard avec lequel un jour de depart on voudrait emporter le paysage qu'on va quitter pour toujours."

As you all would have learnt by now, one of my main sources of inspiration is my favorite daily newspaper: le Monde. The variety of opinions it offers and the depth of analysis the writers delve into, encourage me to question my own thinking and to raise subjects which I discuss here on my blog. The topics can be as light as the player selection for the FIFA French team, or as serious as the integral veil, as appeared in the issue of May 13, under the penmanship of Yves Simon, a writer I am not acquainted with, but whose prose strung a chord in me and encouraged me to make the followng literal translation of his article for my Anglophone readership. Those francophones who are interested in reading the original version, may  find it  in the Le Monde of May 13, 2010 ( articile entitled "Visage, mappemonde de l'au-dela").

PS:  I have taken the freedom of translating only part of the original article. The Proust quotation was chosen by the author and will thus remain in its original language.

"If faces are our personal property, then each one of them is part of the world's heritage,as representatives of  humanity in its totality. As a result,  these faces cannot subtract themselves from the chain of six billion individuals to whom they belong. Masking them would become an intolerable infringement to the history of women and men.

Faces have the ability to communicate without moving lips. Voiceless they recount a story that comes from afar, a tale of beauty and hideousness, of youth and wrinkles, of enthusiasm and emotion, of worry and joy, embarrassment and even fear. Our faces represent a small offering of one's self on a first encounter with a stranger, be it a powerful face or a miserable one. I offer you my face so that you may discover a little part of me, from where I come, if my tanned skin tells you of ancient suns, if my transparent skin indicates deficient red blood cells, or if I hail from Ireland. My nose speaks to you, my cheeks speak to you, as do my forehead and my chin. They tell of recklessness, good will, worries or indulgences.

Your face tells me just as much. Our two ovals of skin emit to one another an opinion of ourselves. I am my face and you are yours. With our chance encounter, we offer simultaneously to one another our respective images, equally shared, in surprising fraternity.

These faces, which remain buried in our memories, restore the personalities of those deceased. Thus, we frame their portraits, we speak to them and kiss them, we hug them and shed tears just by encountering them at the end of the day, when we return home. We cherish these icons of our lives that restitute
man, woman, or child we loved so dearly.[...] Each face represents a personality's emissary in his entirety, like an angel-messenger who announces, without a word, the good and the bad news. Like an ambassador of our troubles and moods: the face is the person, and it surprises.

Faces are magnets. How we all delight, on the terrace of a cafe, as we watch them stream by us, like at the theater, wondering about the scales of their feelings and their suffocating torments, perhaps a birth, a concern, or a jealousy [...].

Truly, to look into a single face, is to witness humanity entirely...."

These comments, written by Yves Simon, are also a reflection of my opinion. I cannot imagine a more lyrical way to assert my opinion about wearing the integral veil, which conceals the faces of women in my world.
The photograph by Shireen Neshat, a self portrait, was the most symbolic way to illustrate this article. It is all "written" on her face!


  1. When I studied economics,the boring science,I used to doze off during most of the Beirut afternoon seminars.It was boring,heavy and humid.
    The blogger tends to give us the same treatment in some of her blogs,similar to this one.Dont misunderstand me:these are valuable thoughts,as economic theory is,but many of the readers are sweltering under 48C Dubai heat,and dont desreve to be subjected to heavy Le Monde articles!
    Seperately,I subscribe to Le Monde every summer,and pile the mountain of unread back issues to await the arrival of the blogger to spend a part of her summer with us in France.I do sometime,take a peak at some issues,understand may be 30% of their content,scribble some remarks,only to impress our blogger that I have read some intelligent material!But it sure helps me(as economics seminars did) to enjoy an afternoon siesta by the pool.

  2. Thanks for sharing Yasmine Jan, although I would prefer your thoughts and opinions regardless of how well Le Monde scribes its thoughts.

    Too much is made of the Hijab by the Western World, even our own Eastern commentators.Hijab was worn before Islam's emergence and has cultural roots that are far heavier than its religious ones. Hijab is beautiful to me though, not so much for its appearance but for the underlying decision to wear it, which is a CHOICE women are allowed to make. Wearing Hijab surely must be the ultimate challenge for women who wish to be treated on the basis of their intellect and character versus their appearance, is Hijab not the very ideal for Feminists everywhere??

    As for the inner veil, its too much in my humble opinion, however, as for all of Le Monde's philospohy, a face can lie without speaking...les yeux sans visage as the song goes! Ultimately, again like the Hijab, its a choice.

    Women who choose Taqwa & Birr as their cloaks will be the most successful.


  3. I think it's important to draw a distinction between hijab and niqab. Hijab is where the face is uncovered and niqab is where everything is hidden including the face.

    Though I have mixed feelings about the hijab. Niqab on the other hand is a real problem. Covering one's face is covering one's identity. Although the La Monde article is very poetic the underlying message is true. If I do not know your face, how do I know who you are?

    Recently in cairo there was a huge scandal with college students in Niqab taking exams instead of eachother. There was no way to tell apart 1 black cloak from the other and no one would dare ask these women to show their faces.

    Hijab should always be a matter of choice. But when it comes to Niqab, no one stands to benefit from a society of faceless women.