DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
I know you're thirsting for more indispensable insights on urban culture on the streets of Paris, but I'm afraid you'll have to wait.  Your faithful blogger is currently in India until mid-January.  So unless I somehow run into JR putting up posters of Tamil youth on the sides of shanty's, no entries on Paris for a few weeks.  However, you can get your blog fix and track my travels at: http://aupindia.wordpress.com.  Peace!

Why go to the Louvre to see art when all you have to do is walk around Paris and look up?  With a vibrant street art scene decorating the walls, the city becomes a gallery in itself.  Allow me to take you on a tour of a few of Paris' most eye-popping areas. 

Let's start with Montmartre, the bohemian sanctuary that served as home and inspiration for many renowned artists like Picasso, Renoir, and Van Gogh.  So it comes as no surprise that this neighborhood is overflowing with illegal creativity.  It also has one of the highest concentration of pieces by iconic Paris street artist Space Invader.  While other tourists stop to stare at the Sacre Coeur, position your eyes on the walls around it.  You'll start to uncover an abundance of hidden treasures peaking out from corners and above street signs.

The 13th
...meaning the 13th arrondissement, home of the artist tenement/incubator Les Frigos.  Start there and in its immediate vicinity, you'll notice art spreading out to the surrounding streets.  From there, head towards Place d'Italie, the commercial center of the district.  Along the way, you're sure to spot the massive orange mural by Polish street artist M-City jutting out of the Paris gray.  M-City recently had an indoor exhibition nearby, but couldn't keep his paints away from the walls outside.  Once you arrive at the shopping mall at Place d'Italie, traverse along the narrow back streets in the area and you'll spot a bevy of wheatpastes and stencils including a slew of cutesy cutouts by Paris' THTF (The Hand That Feeds).

The Moving Gallery
The third and last stop in this installment of Paris' Street Art Gallery is one that you'll only see if it does stop.  It's everywhere and yet nowhere in specific.  That's because the graffiti in this case adorns the walls of moving vans.  Just as it's become popular in New York to cover moving vans with fully developed graff pieces (since the drivers don't really mind), so too have vans throughout Paris begun to carry more than simply furniture.  First trains, now trucks, I hope someday soon airplanes will be next.  So keep your eyes peeled and make sure art doesn't pass you by.
In the third installment of our podcast series with guest Josquin, we talk about the seminal French film La Haine by Mathieu Kassovitz and the incredible French hip hop soundtrack it spawned.  The album features a who's who list of French rap acts from the golden era that was the mid 90s: MC Solaar, IAM, Assassin, CutKiller, Raggasonic, and more.  The film together with the soundtrack paints a complete picture of the (sub)urban culture of that era.  As Josquin points out, it's the ghettoization of the young people's environment that not only gives birth to this true-to-life tale but also gives rise to the emergence of a raw, politically charged French hip hop scene.  Together with the albums of NTM and IAM, the soundtrack to La Haine constitutes the canon of most essential French rap records.

The trailer below gives a taste of the intensity prevalent at the time, laying the foundation for the riots and discontent of recent years.

Princess Hijab was here.
Just after dawn, when the Paris metro starts running, beware!  A looming, long-haired figure skulks around train stations hunting prey.  Her targets: consumer advertising.  Her weapon of choice: a fat black paint marker.  Her method: Hijabisation.

Paris' latest street art sensation Princess Hijab stalks the scantily clad women and men on the posters adorning subway platforms and gives them a costume change.  In quick, broad strokes, she covers them with a niqab, dripping in wet, black ink.  From Dolce & Gabbana to H&M, she leaves a veil trail of topical ad-busting.

With the hijab prohibited in schools and the burqa and niqab to be banned from public spaces starting in 2011, Princess Hijab's guerilla art seems like a strike of retaliation.  Yet she claims in a recent exclusive interview with The Guardian that she has no judgement on the way people dress, one way or another.  She doesn't use the veil as a tool to promote Western feminism or religious freedom.

Instead, she uses "veiled women as a challenge."  She sees herself as part of a new "graffiti of minorities" that is reclaiming the streets and bringing " inside [Paris] everything that's been excreted out."  The niqabs she leaves behind then become a representation for the Paris outsiders who lack opportunities--"the poor, the Arabs, black and of course, the Roma." 

The jarring juxtaposition of dripping black veils on the sculpted bodies of massive ads forces people to confront France's larger problems of integration and increasing consumerism.

Who Princess Hijab is remains a complete mystery.  She reveals nothing about her identity, her religious or ethnic background.  Even her sex and gender are unclear and deliberately ambiguous.  To her (or him), Princess Hijab is a character.  And judging by her costume choice (I'm hauntingly reminded of the girl from The Ring) in this short documentary, her street art is also performance art.  Probably a necessity, not just an aesthetic choice, since her pieces get torn down an average of 45 minutes after they're completed.

So like Bansky and JR before her, Princess Hijab's true identity remains shrouded in secrecy as her anonymity adds to her cultural appeal.  Like Bansky, she subverts mass consumerism with her clever art.  Like JR, she gives attention to the marginalized and shares a concern for the disadvantaged communities of the banlieues

But unlike these two predecessors, she imbues her work with a punch-in-the-gut urgency that the others seem to lack, a kind of hardcore fuck-you attitude.  It's the gangsta rap to their backpacker rap.  Perhaps it's because the veil is such a powerful icon, especially in a Western, Christian space.  Or maybe it's the dripping black ink that does it.  Either way, Princess Hijab has got your attention.

Interestingly enough, Al Jazeera scooped The Guardian months earlier with this video:


    Brian is a writer, dancer, activist, and general hip hop head from New York City. He is currently working towards his Master's in Global Communications in Paris.  


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