Arts + Design

Gallery: A sweet perspective on the burka

Jan 25, 2016 /

Afghan-born artist Behnaz Babazadeh hopes to spark a conversation about the burka … by wrapping herself in candy.

When Behnaz Babazadeh was young, her family moved from Afghanistan to the US. She loved almost everything about her new home — especially America’s amazing selection of candy — but she also loved wearing her familiar pink-flowered headscarf, which she’d grown used to wearing as part of her school uniform in her old home. So she proudly wore it to her first day of American school — where she found herself facing down the piercing stares of her classmates and grilled by the school security guard.

She wants to start a conversation about why that happened — to challenge the image of the burkas and the headscarf as threatening, ominous, a symbol of oppression even on a little girl. What better way than to make herself a burka out of Gummi Bears?

As she says in her TEDxMidAtlantic talk, her sweet and edible burkas make for jarring images. But as she points out, she’s hardly the first person to radically reinterpret the burka. For centuries, it was just one of many local fashions among Afghan women, until the Taliban seized on it as a symbol of piety. A burka made of fruit roll-ups is just one more take — and perhaps one that will make you take a sweet second look at your own assumptions.

A technicolor coat of Gummi Bears

Babazadeh spent four days sewing Haribo brand Gummi Bears, one by one, to a sheet of PVC plastic to create this multi-colored shroud. She exclusively worked with brand-name candies, the ones that were most likely evoke the strongest feelings of nostalgia. “When you go to the movie theater, that’s the brand that you’re given,” she says. “With each of these I wanted to get the brand that I’m most attached to.”

A twirl of cotton candy

Babazadeh hadn’t seen a cotton candy machine since childhood, and when she spotted one at a carnival in 2012 she stopped cold. “It just hit me,” she says. “Why have I not made a cotton candy burka?” Fortunately for her, it was easy to acquire cotton candy in bulk. “You can rent out carnival-sized cotton candy machines,” Babazadeh says. “I took it to the studio and fired it up.” Her friends then wrapped her in cotton candy over the course of two hours. “I really like the idea that these materials are ephemeral,” she says. “They change form, like cotton candy — you can imagine it dissolving on your tongue.”

Draped in Fruit by the Foot

Babazadeh covered herself in a net, and had friends hang more than 400 fruit roll-ups on the strings. While it was unpleasant wearing a heavy shroud of fruit roll-ups that began melting under the studio lights, she was pleased with the way it draped over her body and created a garment that is both striking and suffocating. “By the end of it I was so overwhelmed by the smell that permeated the entire room,” she says. “It got into my skin. Plus you know everyone’s hands were touching me.”

An unruly cluster of Sour Worms

Sour worms tend to form unruly clumps that don’t easily attach to fabric, so Babazadeh lay flat on the floor, and buried herself in a mound of candy. Garment pins, driven through clumps of sour worms, just barely held the form of the garment in place.