The following text is a transcript of a conversation recorded on December 3, 2017, with Hoda Katebi, the self-defined “sarcastic (& angry) Muslim-Iranian writer, photographer, and activist living in Chicago” behind the political fashion blog JooJoo Azad (“free bird” in Farsi). In January 2017, a few days after the inauguration of the current U.S. President and the subsequent massive feminist protest, she wrote an article entitled “Please Keep Your American Flags Off My Hijab” about which we discuss in this interview, along with many other facets of her work with regards to clothing in relation to imperialism, capitalism and the contextualized politics of the hijab between the West and Iran. This conversation is published online on The Funambulist podcast.
LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: In a 2016 article on Joojoo Azad entitled “On the Political Value of Fashion,” you explain how you perceive clothing in general, and fashion in particular, as being inherently political, which works well with our editorial line for this issue. Could you tell us more about it?
HODA KATEBI: Yes definitely. Just as a background for this piece, fashion has always inherently been political. I have never really seen them as separate entities. On that thread, all art is political. You either have the ability to use art for liberation, for self-care, and as a kind of vehicle for social change, questioning the status quo, and imagining alternatives, or if you’re not, if you’re silent and complacent. But silence is still political because it’s a reflection of your privilege in that situation. For me, growing up in Oklahoma, in the South of the United States, made me really understand, looking at the way that people view me just because of the way that I dressed, that wearing a hijab on my head rather than a scarf around my neck, drastically changes the way that people interact with me. My growing up in that kind of environment is the background of my interest in fashion; it was almost purely from a political lens from the start. Looking at the way that its communicative properties can be exploited or can be used to really create a powerful message — that is the kind of the framework from where I understand fashion, from where I’m coming from. I think there are so many factors that make fashion not seen as this political medium and I think it’s because we live in a patriarchal society that deems women’s work inherently invaluable. Anything from emotion labor, child-rearing, early education; a lot of this kind of job sectors that have historically been “women’s work” have always had little pay if any, little value, and yet, just like the fashion industry, women have also historically dominated this industry, both in terms of consumers and producers. For me, the reason why we don’t see fashion as anything but shallow, vain or silly is really because of this patriarchal framework through which we’re viewing these historical and traditional “women’s works.”