The Genteel
February 28, 2021


Stills from Chic Point: Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints, a multi-media film by Palestinian visual artist Sharif Waked.

This past April Maclean's magazine published a clever article, "Drawing a line: the political power of cartoonists in Iran" which discussed Iranian-Canadian cartoonist, Nikahang Kowsar, who was imprisoned for six days for drawing a crocodile cartoon. Yes, really - readers believed he was communicating a politically threatening opinion by disrespecting a particular religious leader in Iran.

Regardless of Kowsar's intent, what is remarkable about editorial cartoons is the power of the message in a seemingly playful medium. The Maclean’s piece reminded me of a similar work several years earlier; much like cartoons, the work appeared innocent, but beneath its fabric, radical meanings would be peeled away by a number of commentators.

Hochberg's title, "Check Me Out", eloquently sums up this message by suggesting that Palestinian men are not being submissive in the checking process, but rather dictate being "checked out".

In 2003, Palestinian visual artist Sharif Waked produced a multi-media film, Chic Point: Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints, which was featured in several publications and exclusive exhibitions, including Nafas Art Magazine, The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Palestine Film Foundation.

Part live fashion show and part still photography, the first portion of the film is a playful runway show presenting the "latest in checkpoint fashion." Garments include odd t-shirts, button-ups, and suits with removable or omitted sections, revealing large portions of the models' abdomens. The second part is a series of raw, black-and-white photographs taken at Israeli checkpoints in which Palestinian men are forcefully revealing themselves. 

Following its release, several critiques were formulated about the significance of the peculiar film. Of them, Gil Z. Hochberg's paper, "Check Me Out: Queer Encounters in Sharif Waked's Chic Point: Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints" (2010), published in the GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, was one of the most developed critical examinations.

In her article, Hochberg claims that there are two chief messages in Chic Point. Unsurprisingly, Hochberg argues that the film brings "to light the cruelty and excessiveness of such stripping practices," which act as a theatrical display of Palestinian subjection.

But latently, and perhaps more significantly, Hochberg argues that the act of revealing the body during strip searches is not as powerless as it appears. Rather, by illuminating the body, Palestinian men are empowered by desire, nudity, and eroticism. Instead of being victim to the "male gaze" - a patriarchal, heterosexual lens in which people, particularly women, are objectified and consequently greater power is asserted to male watchers - Palestinian men "manipulate the gaze that attempts to control it fully." They do so by transforming the Israeli males' gaze into a homosexual gaze, which in turn, no longer provides the watcher with power.

Moreover, argues Hochberg, during the process of a strip search, stripped Palestinian men become an unattainable, sexualised image that Israeli soldiers are forced to look at. In turn, this makes the soldiers appear as though they are seduced and hypnotised by the vision of the "queered body"; the raw, naked, stripped Palestinian body exposed at checkpoints.

Hochberg notes that the latent, underlying message does not disclaim the first, overt message, but rather "redirects and reframes our understanding of these practices… from their over determined and always already familiar meaning, exposing in turn the latent (homosexual and cross-national) sexual fantasies they underwrite." 

Chic Point: Fashion for Israeli Checkpoints
Still from Chic Point: Fashion for Israeli
Checkpoints, a multi-media film by Sharif Waked.

The image to the right is a still from the runway show portion of the film. The model's ensemble is classified as "checkpoint fashion" because the model can lift "up his shirt pulling on a hidden accordion string" in order to quickly reveal his abdomen, allowing for ease of access at checkpoints. Hochberg notes that "as the shirt lifts up, his arm slides down to touch his abdomen and glide over his groin." Referencing the image, Hochberg alludes to the latent eroticism of the stripping spectacle.

By presenting models in a fashion show medium, "reminiscent of a male strip show" the photographic images of the film "come to resemble a staged performance or 'show' in which each side fulfills its predetermined role: one as spectator, the other as model or strippers." Hochberg suggests that by reframing the stripping practice into a "fashion show", it provokes the audience to not only appreciate, but also experience how Israeli soldiers "voyeuristically, indeed pornographically, consume these spectacles." Hochberg's title, "Check Me Out", eloquently sums up her message by suggesting that Palestinian men are not being submissive in the checking process, but rather dictate being "checked out".

Hochberg's analysis illustrates how fashion can used as an influential means of sharing political statements. Similar to Kowsar's cartoon, some of the darkest messages can be demonstrated through some of the most playful vehicles. 



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