DANS LA RUE: Paris Urban Youth Culture
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:
robert carré
12/20/2010 7:26pm



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    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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