Mous Lamrabat (BE)
Mous Lamrabat, Moroccan-born, Belgium raised artist takes viewers on a spectacular, thought-provoking, challenging journey through the contemporary North African landscapes, with his recent work Blessings from Mousganistan. The idea of Mousganistan reminds of Maya Angelou’s words: ‘You only are free when you realise you belong no place; you belong every place.’ In photography Lamrabat creates his ‘home’ against the backdrop of desert landscapes, women’s and men’s vibrant-coloured outfits, and conventional shapes of Western brands repositioned into unconventional contexts. What is seemingly a mere positioning of iconic images on the ordinary clothing of individuals, is far more sophisticated and multi-layered than that. The artist’s work is not just about the juxtaposition of two cultures that are commonly perceived as inherently different, but rather an inquisitive take on the concept of in-between-ness. It is this interstitial space that his work operates from. Ultimately, what shines through his photographs is an intellectual energy that captures questions of identity and belonging all at once. This effective technique leaves the viewer searching for what it means to belong, what it means to be a man or a woman, and the value systems within which we function, and how art can challenge these systems. Lamrabat’s identity as both Arabic and European allows us to understand how his cultural heritage is one that embodies visions of both contexts. He encourages us to think about the concept of diaspora and its relevance. People move, their cultural heritage moves with them. Home is no longer a static concept, it is fluid and fractured and multiplied. In this regard, one could argue that his work is about ownership – owning who you are. Drawing inspiration from culturally familiar images that come from both cultures to create a new vision, in which Lamrabat’s photography grapples with his own heritage. His work is fascinating in that it makes sharp points about cultural imperialism while also depicting issues around identity, gender politics and religion with a playful approach. Most importantly, it creates a visual dialogue between Arab and Western cultures, but not as concepts that are in opposition with each other, but rather in harmony with each other. There is, therefore, beauty in harmony. In fact, beauty and a sense of hope are central to Lamrabat’s work, which is at times a confronting fusion of his diasporic life, using beauty and humour to create powerful new narratives related to sensitive issues like racism, religion and gender. His photos bring to the forefront authentic elements of Islamic culture while capturing the textual nuances of iconic images of the West. These icons end up taking on new meanings when intertwined with and appropriated on to different bodies, regardless of their skin colour. This way what is ‘normal’ is made extraordinary. As viewers we are moving between feeling comfortable seeing familiar images, while at the same time feeling challenged of our own notions of ‘normal’. What would stereotypically be understood as Western brands’ hegemonic take of the non-Western world’s culture, is precisely what is critiqued here: the photographs demonstrate ways in which Islamic culture has the power to utilise Western values represented in the form of icons (from McDonald’s to Nike logos) rather than being dominated by them. Yet, at the same time, this can be viewed as a celebration. His body of work offers a visionary narrative in which two worlds collide and create beauty and richness in the most aesthetically thought-provoking of clashes. Lamrabat’s images collectively serve one aim: to challenge our perceptions of identity. His images decentralise and subvert ideas around womanhood. For instance, when we think of a Muslim woman, we are surrounded by stereotypical images, usually produced, reinforced and reproduced by mainstream media. Muslim women’s bodies and images become focal points for political contest, in this context. A case in point here would be the Time magazine cover, from back in 2005, which created a debate by putting a Muslim veil on the Mona Lisa, for an article about the ‘influx of immigrants into Europe.’ Lamrabat’s work, however, deconstructs this idea by taking the emphasis off womanhood and the male gaze, and replacing it on universally recognised icons. This is a clever ploy on part of the artist, it disturbs the male, Western, prejudiced gaze and defines a new look into the images of the East. Indeed, his work brings together the west and the east; fashion and photography; the popular and the traditional; religious and rebellious; familiar and the unfamiliar. The images capture the in-betweenness and what it means to belong to more than one culture. Aesthetically moving, thought-provoking, subtle yet simultaneously powerful photographs that celebrate this in-betweenness. The space his photographs creates is rich – culturally, visually, and philosophically. In Blessings from Mousganistan, the artist shares a message of love through a colourful and eclectic visual experience. He combines two different cultures while challenging our visual expectations of both cultures. He is both. His art is both. Therefore, his work is a unique celebration of his own identity, which also reminds us how unified our approach to multiculturalism could be. Lambrabat’s photography has the power to make the viewer stop and reflect on what it means to be human in a world that repeatedly reinforces difference. His utopian land offers a rich tapestry of images against the background of a liminal space that promotes compassion and peace, at a time, when we all certainly need it.