The Womanhood Issue

The Experiences of Arab Women Captured

Mous Lamrabat and Waleed Shah talk photographing Arab women.

By Shaistha Khan

The following is an extract from the interview.

If the Shoe Fits by Mous Lamrabat. Image courtesy of Mous Lamrabat.

Mous Lamrabat believes in pushing the narrative by ‘placing things where they don’t belong.’ Lamrabat’s signature style combines his North African and Moroccan heritage with Western or pop culture aesthetics. Some of his instantly recognisable work includes female silhouettes amid a monotonous, nondescript desert landscape, but they are wearing brightly coloured djellabas [a kaftan style worn in Morocco] with the Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls logos. The caption reads, ‘Mountain Goats,’ alluding to basketball icons Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. ‘It’s just who I am,’ says the Belgium-based photographer. ‘I like putting things where they don’t belong, and this [contrast] makes things interesting.’

The interior designer turned photographer cites examples of using the McDonald’s golden arches or the Wu-Tang logo as henna designs in his photo series. ‘For most people, it depicts the commercialised world that we live in,’ he says, ‘but the only way I explain it is that it is everything that I was obsessed about, everything that talks to me.’

Don’t Tell Me What to Wear – The Series that Gave Me a Voice by Waleed Shah. Image courtesy of Waleed Shah.

Growing up in Belgium, Lamrabat couldn’t afford Nike shoes. Fuelled by an obsession with the unattainable shoes, he drew the Nike logo on the inside covers of every schoolbook. Similarly, his affinity for McDonald’s can be attributed to his formative life experience of working after school at the chain. In one striking image, he captures a woman wearing a black burqa [a cloak that covers the entire body and face except for the eyes] and holding a larger-than-life Nike swoosh sign, with the accompanying caption, ‘Just pray for it,’ a cheeky take on Nike’s ‘Just Do It.’

While one might view Lamrabat’s work as illustrating brand loyalty, his work also portrays the duality of the diaspora experience. ‘Being born in one place and growing up in another, you tend to face an identity crisis,’ he says. ‘But that isn’t a bad thing. There’s so much more that you can offer to the world – it was the first time that I accepted it as something positive.’ He also adds that having recognisable elements from popular culture attracts a diverse group of people to his work. Speaking of photographing female silhouettes, Lamrabat believes it comes very naturally to him. ‘I did it to symbolise women and not just the person in the frame. It’s about encouraging the strength of women by not showing her face. It feels like the anonymity of it makes it universal and can be applicable to everyone.’

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