We are no strangers to the sometimes-nameless photographs that surge the internet, those images that invite collective awe and depart from the exclusive realms of fine art to make their way to the very public domains of the world wide web. You may not know photographer Mous Lamrabat by name, but you know his images by distinction. From the photograph of South Sudanese model, Atheic Chol Malel, wrapped in blue tulle to the distortions and reappropriations of brand logos like the McDonald’s golden arches and the Nike swoosh, Lamrabat’s distinct style and interpretations crowd the internet with excitement.
What seems to be the attraction to Lamrabat’s work is the overwhelming depiction of the third culture experience, marrying the ubiquitous West with the very specific contexts of the Middle East and North Africa. His work positions itself alongside the cultural experiences of those who come from many places at once. It replaces inner conflict and cultural turmoil with an outward expression of duality and multitude. Where many see contradiction and a crisis of identities, Lamrabat sees an opportunity for beauty.
His work introduces an absurdity to the mundane and everyday of Moroccan and Middle Eastern culture, over-exaggerating aesthetics and traditions and juxtaposing them against universal logos and brands. Lamrabat navigates fashion and commercial photography by producing art that functions beyond the exhibition of a product or garment. His appeal to brands does not commercialize his work but instead elevates the brands and brings to their table a level of cultural influence, accommodation, and depth. While his visual treatment of trends and popular culture treads the fine line between promotion and critique, what is impressive is his ability to engage these major brands in this commentary on consumption and production.
Through his portrayal of the fashionable and the branded, Lamrabat’s images urge us to ask questions about the nature of belonging; of positions in the world, both within and outside of geography. We reminisce on the traditions and places we belong to and that belong to us but wonder, through the logos superimposed over our heritage and culture, whether the brands belong to us also – or if we belong to them.
It is palpable through the photographs what is familiar to Lamrabat: Morocco, hip-hop, Islam, fashion, the desert. While his influences are plentiful and apparent in his work, as is the symptom of third culture, their perforations are not territorial. His work does not lay claim to them but only pulls them into the conversation. Representation and inclusivity seem to be at the core of Lamrabat’s work, featuring and even centering different communities engaged in their own culture and in world culture simultaneously. His work offers spaces for Muslim representation; Moroccan representation; female, Amazigh, Black, contemporary, young representation. His work makes us all members.
When asked what drove him to switch from creating spaces as an interior designer to creating images, Lamrabat said that what appealed to him about photography was the ability “to be creative every day.*” To say Lamrabat has moved from creating spaces would be a disservice. Through his work, he is able to make room and create worlds altogether – worlds of middle grounds, commonalities, and global communities. Worlds that are deeply rooted in their personal cultures and histories but pull from and participate in popular culture on a global scale.
*Mous Lamrabat, ‘Coexisting Cultures’. Interview with Tamar Gerrits for Metal Magazine.
An artwork interpretation by Qutouf Yahia for the ART X Lagos 2021 artpaper