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Artistic Advocacy: Digital Keffiyeh

Ameera Kawash

Digital Keffiyeh is an artistic advocacy project dedicated to safeguarding and promoting Palestinian digital rights, including human rights, representational justice, and freedom of speech. The series consists of artworks, talks, publications and interventions in digital spaces and media.

Digital Keffiyeh is a critical and creative exploration of how Palestinian identity and narratives are expressed and shaped by contemporary communications technologies and tools, including social media, generative AI, AR/VR, and immersive media, considering the impact of these technologies on Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Israel, and the diaspora.

I began this project attempting to recreate the traditional pattern of the keffiyeh in a digital format, using, for example, generative AI, virtual reality, or metaverse platforms to draw attention to these technologies' social and political dimensions. However, I encountered numerous biases and challenges in attempting digital re-creations of the keffiyeh.

For example, I discovered a network of biases and omissions when I tried to create an image of a cat in a keffiyeh in a popular generative AI program. These distortions exist in the data sets that AI is trained on and point to larger epistemological questions about how knowledge is produced or destroyed in AI systems. I published these outcomes in 'What a Cat in a Keffiyeh Reveals About AI's Anti-Palestinian Bias' (see 'Publications'). This was the first article to call out AI's anti-Palestinian bias and helped to catalyse further research and advocacy on this critical topic.

In another intervention, I wrote about the advent of virtual reality in relation to the digital divide and occupation in Palestine / Israel, which I published in 'The Occupation Enters the Metaverse' (see publications).

The omission, obscuration, or repression of Palestinian narratives in popular platforms and tools leads to digital erasure and discrimination, which exasperates Palestinians' experience of dehumanisation through decades of oppression.

I am currently researching and creating work on generative AI in popular culture.

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