Princess Hijab’s Burqa Tag Targets Sexy Ads in France’s Metro
Last month, France’s congress banned women from wearing of burqas in public, sparking an emotional worldwide debate about Islamophobia, feminism, and the general dickishness of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
While for the most part supporters and detractors of the ban are polarized, Princess Hijab’s burqa tag remains ambiguous, as does her (or his) gender and religious persuasion. The tiny, wigged artist told The Gaurdian’s Angelique Chrisafis that her real identity is unimportant, a seemingly retro statement for 2010 when everyone’s identities, particularly artists’, are smeared all over the web.
The ambiguity of Princess Hijab’s work is far more complex than her persona. She almost exclusively tags sexy advertisements, covering the models’ faces, while leaving legs, tummies and butts bare– a contradiction that could imply that burqas are oppressive or weirdly sexy; or that banning full-face burqas is ridiculous and dictatorial. Whatever the intent, the tag is striking.
In the legacy of Blek le Rat and Bansky, graffiti artists are primarily activists. Their role is to tear down political and social institutions by bringing imposing images to the people, and now the web as well. The work is striking because it’s politically charged, and because it’s illegally made, not for sale, and anonymous. The rebellious message is married to the rebellious act of creating it.
But Princess Hijab’s work is particularly complex. Forcing women to cover their faces with burqas is imposed by an extremely conservative institution. But now that the absence of burqas in France has become institutionalized, the way to tear down that social order is by putting back the very social order the ban took away in the first place. It’s like how people talk about how the most rebellious thing Radiohead could do at this point would be making a hyper-conventional pop album.
It seems counterintuitive that covering the faces of beautiful women with black paint burqas is actually an act of rebellion. Maybe Princess Hijab’s allusion is that forcing people to wear or not to wear something is ludicrous regardless of who is enforcing the rule. Maybe in a way it’s not as much a debate over Islamophobia or femenism as it is a debate over dress code. I’m no art critic, so it’s hard for me to say.
What I can say is that between this and “The Simpsons” Banksy episode, it’s refreshing to see that there’s a French street artist following in Blek le Rat’s footsteps, and that political activism through street art is still on our collective radar.