Friday, May 28, 2010

Character of Note: Princess Hijab

I never wanted to be a nobody. But as it turns out, sometimes it is better to be hidden under that dark night, instead of in the spotlight.

'By being nobody, she is free to be anybody.'

Her alias: Princess Hijab

Her objective: Destabilizing mass media by "hijab-izing" the figures in advertisements and billboards.

Her weapons of choice: black spray paint and a black marker.

By day, Princess Hijab is a simple 21 year old woman living out what I assume is a normal life. By night, however, she is an anonymous guerrilla street artist based in Paris, France since 2006. PH's "artistic jihad," as some have called it, has stirred up quite the controversy in France. The country is the perfect location because it provides an obvious political context for the street artist. After all, France has been basically pushing for secularism ever since the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, but more recently, it has been challenging the hijab after three Muslim girls were suspended from their high school in a suburb of Paris, for not removing their headscarves in 1989.

The barely-covered figures that were once used in "regular ads," for anything from perfume to underwear, are transformed by the Princess into figures in black veils, eyes emerging from a dark niqab. She also posts "hijab ads" in public spaces and continues to ruffle the feathers of the French government and religious groups alike.

There is much speculation about the identity of the Princess and, more specifically, her religious background. She had claimed to be a 21-year-old Muslim girl, but recently stated that she is not a Muslim in a German newspaper.

PH is mainly influenced by anti-consumerism and is persistent in separating her work from conservative culture jammers and Muslim groups.

"I am using the hijab for myself."

Indeed, this seems extremely true because the Princess does not cover the entire figure in a black veil, as a Muslim woman would be covered. Instead, she often chooses to leave the sexy, and often bare, legs revealed to the public. Moreover, PH does not only hijab-ize female models, but male models as well, confusing her critics and her fans.

“People are confused by me. Some say I am pro-feminist, some say I am antifeminist; some say I am pro-Islam, others that I am anti-Islam. It’s all very interesting—but at the end of the day, I am above all an artist.” 

Interestingly enough, a blogger of Muslimah Media Watch, Ethar El-Katatney, wrote, “I’d actually love it if it turns out she’s not a Muslim, because it lends credibility to the idea that the dislike of being exposed to ‘visual aggression’ is not necessarily rooted in religious belief. Fed up with women being used to sell products, hijabizing ads could be a way to ‘take back’ women’s rights to their bodies.”

The anonymity of Princess Hijab is what throws me off the most. I feel that knowing her identity would explain her art much more. Is she a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Atheist or what? Is she even a woman or just a man in disguise?

There are so many unanswered questions, but I suppose that is what makes it all the more interesting. Personally, I would love it if she was a Muslim. It would open up quite a few doors to Muslims and show them that it is possible to make a difference, to change the world, even by being a nobody.

Whatever or whoever Princess Hijab is, she has certainly managed to cause quite that stir in the media and in political and religious contexts.

Until next time...

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