Asian American Studies

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Head Dress: Aligning the Hijab and Turban Under Imperial Visuality

Event Type
Department of Asian American Studies
AAS Conference room, 1208 W Nevada, Urbana
Mar 30, 2017   4:00 pm  

In this talk, Singh theorizes and reckons with an aligned politics of recognition for both the hijabi Muslim body and the turbaned Sikh body. In the wake of renewed attacks on Muslim and Muslim-adjacent communities, the hijab and turban continue to be enveloped as important material objects in the racialization of Muslim and Sikh bodies. Analyzing contemporary visual culture as both testament and counter-archive to a geopolitical project of Islamophobia, Singh moves to both assemble and update how we apprehend these unsettling figures. Comparative in scope, this paper looks at the racial, gendered, and queer configurations that the religious symbols and objects of hijab and turban provide. Specifically, Singh situates her examination in the context of both the contradictions in arguments around religious freedom, as well as the imperialist discourses of security in the ongoing Global Wars on Terror. Through readings of recent events, ephemera, and visual culture, Singh argues that the aligned politics of recognition of these two bodies has important effects for the racial, gendered, and sexual politics of American empire.


Balbir K. Singh is a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Asian American Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she is also a Postdoctoral Affiliate in the Department of Gender and Women's Studies. She earned her PhD in the Department of English at the University of Washington in 2016. Her research interests include comparative racialized religions, anticolonial literature and thought, transnational and women of color feminisms, and the politics of the body and dress. Her writing has appeared in Sikh Formations and Critical Ethnic Studies, and she is currently at work on her first book manuscript on racial and gendered constructions of militancy in the Sikh diaspora.


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