The neoqab is a speculative niqab-based outfit of digitally manipulable fabric. For the wearer of the neoqab, they’re covered by an all-enveloping garment. But due to the special fabric, others around neoqab wearers can modify its appearance.
Immigration flows worldwide have meant that people of all faiths and with clashing values now live shoulder to shoulder. In Canada, France, and other Western countries, visibly Muslim women have frequently catalysed debate around local values and religious practices as well as borne the brunt of xenophobic and misogynistic attitudes and actions. In August 2016, after 15 towns in France banned the burkini, a woman wearing a headscarf made headlines when she was confronted by armed male policemen and forced to undress. In 2015, Stephen Harper made a ban on niqab part of his electoral campaign. Whenever niqab has become an active topic of political debate, niqab wearers have reported higher-than-normal incidence of verbal and physical assault. As artists, we are neither for nor against niqab, but our position is that we cannot know the context of why women wear niqab without engaging them in dialogue, and that banning items of women’s clothing curtails women’s freedoms.
With NEO//QAB, we want people to engage with what it means to control the clothes of others, and likewise, how it feels to be controlled. We present a video of an individual wearing a neoqab, showing how it is controlled. We also make available a niqab-based outfit, and provide a projection setup and software application that bring the neoqab concept to life. We then invite participants to take on the role of neoqab wearer and also controller. Our ultimate intention is that wearer and controller engage in dialogue, and ultimately collaborate to choose the projected appearance of the neoqab. This dialogue metaphorically models that which is lacking in Western political discourse around the niqab — asking women who wear it about their motivations and concerns.