Before returning to graduate school, I worked at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley. CMES is one of many national research centers that falls under the umbrella of International and Area Studies. While at Berkeley I had the fabulous opportunity to meet and interact with prominent scholars and political figures from all over the globe who focus on topics pertaining to Middle Eastern cultures. From Sufi Poetry to the architecture of Medieval Cairo, the economics of Morocco to the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, every day I learned something new or garnered a new perspective. In the middle of my time there, the terrorist attacks on America reshaped the country's consciousness and the corporate media intensified their long tradition of creating suspicion of Arabs and Arab-Americans, especially those who practice Islam. And the threat of The Gulf War: Episode II was looming on the horizon made smoggy by burning oil.
My experiences at Berkeley influenced a lot of my work my first semester of graduate school, including a trilogy of performances that sought to serve as a barometer of attitudes in San Francisco towards the current prominent "Other." They also sought to erode the manipulated lines of separation that divide us as human beings.
In the "performance" pictured here, I played with signifiers to confront people in their stereotypes. Faced with the dilemma of how to document a performance without calling attention to its screws and stretcher bars, I opted to have tourists document it for me! I went to Fisherman's Warf and the Golden Gate Bridge (where a military hummer pulled into the parking lot behind me) wearing a head scarf and a ruffled shirt covered with red, white and blue stars and stripes. Any time I found a good photo op or anytime people started giving me questionable "looks," I confronted them with friendliness, engaged them in small talk, and asked them to please take my picture. A camera, it seems, serves as an ice breaker in most corners of the globe, even in our own back yards.
Months later, I created postcards from the photos that tourists took. I wanted to question the idea of borders and boundaries via something that we assume to transverse them freely, the U.S. mail. I had this idea because, after 9-11-2001, the post office held a book from my Chair at CMES to the CMES Chair at another university. It was a really subversive book--on medieval Islamic architecture.