by: Blaine Skrainka
An androgynous cloaked figure stalks the Paris metro tunnels in an obscure disguise with marker in hand. Princess Hijab is an elusive French street artist that catches Parisian eyes with unsettling alterations to fashion ads that line the tubes of the subway.
‘Hijabisation’ involves striking the advertisements of retailers like H&M and D&G with a thick black paint pen, whereby the artist ads her signature niqab to veil the faces of models. The identity and motives of Princess Hijab remain opaque.
Initially there was debate and speculation whether the street art commentary was coming from a Muslim fundamentalist, or rather, a feminist activist. Social debate continues in France after President Nicolas Sarkozy implemented the ‘Burqa Ban’, a law banning women from covering their faces with veils, declaring that “burqas are not welcome in France.”
Was Princess Hijab standing with the ostracized Muslim community in France, protesting religious persecution and immigrant marginalization? Estimates report that as little as 350 and at most 2,000 women in France, out of a population of 64 million actually wear niqabs that fully cover the face or burqas that stretch from head to toe. Why are such a small group of women being targeted? On the other hand, most of her pieces left much skin to be seen. Perhaps she was actually a feminist activist who believes that veils are a symbol of male oppression. Her defaced canvases are mildly disturbing and could serve to show the darkness of what covering a woman’s face symbolizes.
It seems that both of these theories may have been misguided. In an interview with The Guardian, Princess Hijab opens up, “I use veiled women as a challenge. If [they] want to make a point, they’d do it themselves. If feminists want to do something they’re capable of doing it on their own.” It seems that Princess Hijab’s mission is rather, a refocus on self-identity in a consumerist society where the proliferation of advertising in public spaces has led to lifestyle branding that all too often promotes the wrong values.
‘Hijabism’ completely changes the meaning of the advertisement. In the Muslim world, veils are a way to blend in, but in France they make you stand out. The visually striking works of Princess Hijab make people stop and consider what they are staring into. “It challenges, it frightens, and it re-imagines,” she tells Wooster Collective. Ultimately, there is much left to one’s own imagination and interpretation.