Moroccan-born Belgian-raised artist Mous Lamrabat is known for his striking portraits of veiled women that beautifully fuse his Moroccan heritage with his Western upbringing. Today, the self-taught photographer is inviting people to peek into the unique fictional universe he created for his work to exist, Mousganistan, with his first solo show of the same name. The photographic exhibition is taking place in his hometown of Sint-Niklaas, a municipality in East Flanders, Belgium from January 31 to March 24, and draws its name from M.I.A’s song “Freedun”, in which she sings “From the people’s republic of Swaggerstan” (In Lamrabat’s words, this was “genius”).
Lamrabat, who moved to Belgium with his parents and eight siblings when he was a child, studied interior design before pursuing photography (though he credits his interior design background for fueling his creativity). Reluctant to stay confined in a stuffy office in some architectural company, the photographer declined a job proposal from a well-known architect, and instead picked up a camera that he already had laying around in his room and began taking pictures. He started off as an assistant for a Belgian photographer, assisting him in shoots, before branching off on his own. The rest is history.
So what will you find in Mousganistan? A woman shrouded entirely in pink silk sitting atop a magnificent stallion. Another is swathed in a counterfeit Louis Vuitton wrap, balancing a leather football splattered with the Parisian maison’s iconic logo on her head. Another faceless figure is pinned to a clothing line. And is that msemen inside a McDonald’s fries packet? Though Lamrabat’s work seems to be humorous and playful on the surface, his art confronts identity head on, specifically challenging the stigma around veiled women by artistically portraying them as human sculptures.
His unique photography is designed to open the conversation around the stereotypes often faced by Arabs, Africans, and Muslims, with fashion and style playing a pivotal role. To find the Balenciaga and Gucci djellabas, sneakers, and accessories worn by his subjects, Lamrabat trawls shops in Moroccan villages, where counterfeit luxury products are mass-produced, with stylist Lisa Lapauw (who serves as a model in several of his photographs). The photographer integrates traditional North African iconography, such as tagine, sfenj, fez hats, and Moroccan tea, in his portraits, but re-contextualizes them in an artistic, fashion-forward way that allows people to view them as more than just the mundane objects they’re used to seeing every day.