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Joselyn Mcdonald

Medium: Video Tutorial
Issues: Algorithm, Identity, and Surveillance


Mother_Protect_Me is a series of explorations incorporating natural elements, primarily flowers, into makeup and hair creations to undermine the effectiveness of facial recognition technologies. This work, a YouTube anti-facial recognition flower makeup tutorial and photo series, seeks to leverage traditionally (western) feminine practices of makeup application and hairstyling to push back against the encroachment of facial recognition-based mass surveillance. Due to concerns over the increased use of facial recognition algorithms to target diverse bodies, from average citizens to protestors, to women-identifying as sex workers, I have been considering accessible and expressive tools to undermine these systems. The consideration of creative makeup as an avenue for undermining facial recognition systems were inspired by the CV Dazzle project and the recent surge in popularity of avant-garde makeup stylings found on YouTube and Instagram. I find the concept of traditionally feminine rituals and practices (in the west), such as the application of makeup, being used as defense measures against tools that have been used to disproportionately target women as an exciting critical design and research space.

Facial recognition algorithms work by looking for standard facial features – eyes, noses, mouths, and gradients along the hair and chin line. By disrupting the algorithm’s ability to establish relationships between core data points, you can undermine the ability of governments and technology companies to identify your face without your consent. I use flora in the Mother_Protect_Me floral makeup photo series consciously. Here, nature is a provocation, representing the feminine/mother nature/retaliation against the artificial/remembrance of our use of nature as shelter and protection. When applied strategically around the face and over facial features, the flora serves as a shield from Big Brother. In the Mother_Protect_Me video tutorial, I leverage the stylings and format of a YouTube makeup tutorial. I aim to promote dialogue regarding mass surveillance and the erosion of civil liberties from technology companies and governmental entities. I ask that viewers remember the Mother and let her protect you.


Joselyn McDonald (she/her) is a multidisciplinary artist, critical maker, and creative researcher whose work centers on issues relating to power, gender, and the Anthropocene. Often her work includes emergent technologies, recycled electrical components, and found materials. McDonald’s work has been exhibited widely including at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Leaders in Software and Art, Sketching in Hardware, Designing Interactive Systems in Hong Kong, and Revisius Textor in Nevers, France. Her career began in filmmaking, often working with super 8mm and 16mm film formats. Later, she dedicated much of her practice to exploring technology’s impact on society, receiving an MFA from Parsons the New School for Design in Design and Technology and an MS from Carnegie Mellon in Human-Computer Interaction.  Presently, Joselyn McDonald is a Senior Analyst at Duke University where she is leading an initiative to develop a foundational technology-education curriculum to support Duke students to engage with an ethically and effectively rapidly shifting technological landscape. Additionally, she frequently creates work for online and IRL gallery exhibitions.