PRINCESS HIJAB: Invisible Hand

Underground (where history’s most effectual social movements have often begun), amongst the bustling crowds of the Paris Metro, amidst the chic and sophisticated business men and women lurks in the shadows one of the international art world’s most illusive and controversial figures. Meet Princess Hijab.

Words: Nakia Hicks
Images: Courtesy of Princess Hijab, photographed by L. Sassiat & A.Breant

Shrouded in secrecy behind a black hooded cloak, Parisian graffiti artist, Princess Hijab (PH) moves with focused determination, weaving through the crowded train station like an apparition (as though somehow the cloak makes her invisible). Her presence is as startling and unsettling as the images she creates…

Speculation surrounds the artist whose medium is as raw and primitive as her approach. With very little information available and only a few interviews granted, one is often left to draw their own conclusion. Even the gender and religious affiliations of Princess Hijab have been called into question. During a rare interview with UK newspaper, The Guardian, “she” says, “The real identity behind Princess Hijab is of no importance. The imagined self has taken the foreground.”

Shielded by the anonymity afforded “her” as a result of a carefully hidden identity like some of the most notorious street artists of our day, PH’s work differs by “her” selective targeting of sexually overt advertisements by popular brands such as Dolce and Gabbana and H&M. She transforms them quickly through the use of traditional Muslim coverings—the niqab and hijab— to mask the faces of both male and female models with aggressive strokes of black paint or marker. There is no sophistication to the technique. The circumstances do not call for a master’s touch, just visceral, passionate strokes.

With only four-five done a year, the images manage to stay up a mere 45 minutes before the authorities remove them. “She” does have enough time to carefully capture photographs of her work though, which by way of the Internet, have not only taken a life of their own, but have also been on display in the art scenes of New York and surrounding European cities. Calling her movement the “niqabizing” or “hijabisation” of the image, PH uses the Arabic ideology of “keeping private what should be private” and places it in direct opposition to the blatant sexualization of the images she targets.

Yet PH insists that her art is not associated with either religion or any political ideologies, stating in the same article that, “The content of my art is more directly related to our archetypes, to the collective unconsciousness, our intimate reactions, to the closed space of the Metro and the street.” With the stark disassociation of any of the obvious affiliations or reasonings, one is lead to wonder what the truest motivation behind Princess Hijab’s work truly is. While current events would suggest that it is in direct response to the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy’s controversial ban of the Muslim burka (Read our story) being worn in public places, PH maintains that her “Niqab Interventions” are not related, especially given that “her work” first appeared in 2005, long before the ban was indoctrinated.

However unintentional, Princess Hijab’s work, aggressively thrusts the visual and external representation of a religion whose very mention conjures ideas of extremism and oppression into the face of the viewer, demanding that they deal with it. In juxtaposition to all of these things, PH also raises a series of provocative questions. Who is the real terrorist? Who has actually waged the war? Does the lack of clothing in and of itself represent a similar type of spiritual and psychological attack by way of non-consensual sex? The impending demoralization of society aside, are Princess Hijab’s works an indictment against society and consumerism’s use of sexuality as a means of forwarding its agenda and bottom line, without an afterthought to the damage it leaves in its wake?

After careful consideration, we are brought back to the question of intent. Is this the work of a genius, whose social commentary forces the viewer to address the very uncomfortable truths surrounding a sinister corporate agenda to push goods on the consumer? Or is this simply an artist, using visual and morally-charged dissonance to forward “her” own aspirations — aware that the shock value associated with the chosen images, partnered with the carefully orchestrated obscurity could potentially propel “her” into the spotlight and bring along a cult following? In either case, we are left to deal with the very real images Princess Hijab leaves behind; the spoils of war that provoke us to speculate and force us to contemplate a deeper message, like the most pure form of art.

Copyright images courtesy of Princess Hijab photographer: L. Sassiat, A.Breant.

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