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Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

Moroccan-Belgian Photographer Mous Lamrabat’s New Exhibition Captures the Necessity Of Peace

We spoke to Moroccan-Belgian photographer Mous Lamrabat about his new exhibition, "Blessing from Mousganistan," and the themes within his work.

Moroccan-Belgian photographer Mous Lamrabat is a world builder with ideas that are refreshing, new, and audacious.

In his new exhibition, which opened in the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam (Foam) in June, Lamrabat brings to life a utopian land he calls “Mousganistan." "I feel like every creative person needs to have a made up place where they create raw ideas of what they want to do without being affected by the outside place," Lamrabat told OkayAfrica during a phone conversation. "My Mousganistan is a place I go to become creative because there are no opinions from people."

Fittingly titled “Blessing from Mousganistan,” the exhibit features Lamrabat deconstructing stereotypes and telling personal anecdotes. Lamrabat invites viewers into past experiences of growing up in Belgium and watching the reactions of people towards his mother and sisters because they wore hijabs.

Aligning creativity with his identity has always been a strength of Lamrabat. Over the last couple of years, Lamrabat has been one of the prominent photographers bringing his culture to the forefront of fashion editorials including Vogue, GQ and Fucking Young.

OkayAfrica had a phone call with the photographer where he spoke about his new exhibition, not wanting to explain his work, building an audience, and more.

Mous Lamrabat headshot

Over the last couple of years, Lamrabat has been one of the prominent photographers bringing his culture to the forefront of fashion editorials.

Photo Credit: Dimitri Bekaert

You are one of the prominent photographers from Northern Africa, how did your journey as a visual artist emerge?

I feel my journey as an artist is still starting. I studied interior design at the KASK & Conservatorium / School of Arts Gent, Belgium. My father was a creative person and that's why I wanted to enter the academy and do something creative but when I arrived at the academy, I realized that I wasn’t actually as creative as the other kids who grew up having their parents take them to the museum and who were in touch with their innate creativity at an early age. I didn’t have that kind of opportunity because my parents were first generation immigrants. They didn’t go to museums or even know what art actually was.

When I went to school there, I felt at home because there were kids in the hallway painting. There were some people playing music and I really felt like I belonged there and I really wanted to prove that I belonged there. I learnt very fast how to be creative and how to become the expectation of my teachers. It felt like I was infected with the creative virus, I wanted it to be so good. When I finished my study, I was asked by an architectural company to come join their team, but I didn’t do that because I wanted to be creative every day. Architecture is a little bit of creativity and the rest is technical and I didn’t want that for myself. So I declined all the job offers and I went to assist a local photographer as an assistant

Your work revolves around stories of identity, especially life as a Moroccan. Can you say more?

Growing up Moroccan, African, and muslim in Belgium, I wanted to belong and be part of a group. Every person in the Western world has this crisis with sticking to their roots or joining mass of people, that feeling of leaving behind heritage. For me , I didn’t have to choose between these things because it’s like society tells us the truth but we basically don’t have to choose. That’s why I started doing my own thing within photography, showing who I am as a person, what my interests are, and how I grew up. I mean I am African, I am Moroccan, I am Muslim but I also grew up in a world where I use to love playing basket ball, listening to hip-hop — all these things made me who I am and the total of it made me strong. Inside the house, we were Moroccan, we took off our shoes, the house looked Moroccan but outside was Belgium.

Mous Lamrabat

“Blessing from Mousganistan" runs from June to October at the Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam.

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

What was the inspiration behind “Blessings from Mousganistan”?

Mousganitan started off as a bit of a joke. I always felt like if you wanted to do something different from everybody else and not be judged, then you don’t necessarily need to share that idea because we all do have ideas. For me, when you tell people your ideas, people always have an opinion and you tend to adapt to what they say which affects your creativity. I feel like every creative person needs to have a made up place where they create raw ideas of what they want to do without being affected by the outside place. So my Mousganistan is a place I go to become creative because there are no opinions from people.

Mous Lamrabat photo durags

"For me that photography was putting Judaism and Islam in one image to bring it back together and have conversations about it. I wanted people to see the unison between both religions and understand that photographic intent of promoting peace."

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

In one of the portraits, a star sign can be seen on the muses’s head. Is there a meaning to this?

Everything I do is always personal and it also revolves around things happening in the world that bothers me and have an effect on me and my creative process. When there was a lot of unrest in the Middle East between Pakistan and Israel, it was really something that tore us apart. Jewish and Islamic people have always been brothers biblically because we are children of the book. This is why sometimes I put together things to have that message out. For me that photography was putting Judaism and Islam in one image to bring it back together and have conversations about it. I wanted people to see the unison between both religions and understand that photographic intent of promoting peace.

Was the series a means to emphasize on women’s rights?

When I talk about women’s rights, I mostly speak about my own experience. Experiences about my mother in the supermarket because my mother wears a hijab and how the people react to her is uncomfortable. It hurts me to see that people treat and see them as less and this is something I will always contribute my work to, to give people like my mother and sister a representation.

There is a portrait in this exhibition of two boys catching a grip of flowers. Was that your attempt to speak about masculinity and what it looks like in Morocco?

It’s not exactly like masculinity because the series was inspired by old paintings and I was looking through the inspiration of my past work and it gave me the aura of trying something new from the old. I never explain my work in exhibitions. Most of the time I hear a lot of people talk about my work and their interpretations, and I learn so much from them because I realize there is more to my work than I expect it to be. So that’s why I love that you interpreted the photo to be a view on masculinity. Maybe it resonates with you as a person or maybe it makes you think about masculinity.

Mous Lamrabat clown

"Clowns have always been an inspiration because they exude happiness and joy."

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

The collection had a portraiture of clowns, was this an inclination to capture humor.

I was always intrigued by clowns because I love emotions. Clowns have always been an inspiration because they exude happiness and joy. But I always found clowns sad sometimes but that’s not what they are invented for. I love playing with clown photos because there are so much emotions there. I always try to put humor in them because if you make someone feel something when they look at your photo, they would remember it because of the emotions in the photos. And my favorite one is humor because laughter is important, and I want to put messages inside my photos but I always try to do it on a positive note.

Mous Lamrabat mother

Mous Lamrabat's work tends to be very personal.

Photo Credit: Mous Lamrabat

Have you ever had to compromise or wrestle with toning down your Arabic imagery in your photography to please certain eyeballs?

I would be lying if I said no. I never took the audience as an issue. If I ever had a reaction, it has only been on social media because whenever I do exhibitions, the people that come have a certain intelligence to understand the scenery of my exhibition. It’s not just one photo that they see in an exhibition, it consists of the total. But on social media, when I post a photo, people always have something to say about my work or share their opinion. I didn’t compromise that much honestly because I felt my work was growing quite fast. I don’t want to compromise but if I don’t, I get these reactions that don't sit well with me because I’m kind of a soft person. When a person talks bad about my work, it feels like they talk bad about my children. I’m very passionate about what I do. I feel like I would compromise more but I hope I won’t.

Would you say the creative world has been more accepting of photographers like yourself or do you face certain barriers?

I think so, yes. The creative world is in need of inspiration and when you do something refreshing and new, people get attracted to it. If I see some people’s art which sometimes I love and sometimes I don’t but if it’s something super refreshing, I automatically respect it whether I like it or not. That’s also the part of the respect I get from the creative world because my work was something people never saw before and that’s why they respect me and want to exhibit me.

Featured
Photo Credit: Dipo Doherty

In His Own Words: How Dipo Doherty Uses Technology to Enhance His Artwork

We spoke to artist Dipo Doherty about his upbringing in Nigeria, his career, the various ways he merges technology with his art, and more.

During the weekdays, Nigerian artist Dipo Doherty works full-time as an IT professional for a tech company. When off-the-clock, he is sketching 3D paintings on his iPad. Then, on weekends, he visits his studio, making abstract figurations on canvas until his imagination comes to life.

Geometrical lines, bold colors and unassuming abstraction are artistic details evident in Doherty's art, which typically provides social commentary on various topics, from the Nigerian economy to matters around family and identity. But Doherty wants his work to be universally reachable and he does that by incorporating human-centric emotions.

Doherty’s debut solo exhibition in the U.S is currently open at the Rele gallery in Los Angeles until July 23rd. In the exhibition, titled “Finding Home,” Doherty visualizes his transitory process from being a Nigerian to being a person in the diaspora living in the States.

OkayAfrica spoke to Doherty about his upbringing in Nigeria, his career, the various ways he merges technology with his art, and more.

As told to Ugonna-Ora Owoh.

Dipo Doherty painting

Photo Credit: Dipo Doherty

On why Diplo became an engineer

Art has always been my calling, but you know how rigid Nigerian parents are when their child has a passion to pursue a career that deviates from the stereotyped career — especially because of financial dependency. Ever since I was in primary and secondary school, I was always excellent in the art subject. I guess being a curious person made me keep my options opened. I like understanding the workings of things and that’s why I studied engineering. In 2012, [while getting] my bachelors in mechanical engineering, I felt that calling for art. It took me back to memories as a child and I felt I could do it. I think studying in the U.S kind of nurtured my love for art. I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Virginia. During those times I would take a trip to New York to visit modern galleries, and when I started seeing how they took art seriously in the U.S it encouraged me.

On the artists that inspired him 

One of the people I looked up to was the painter Twins Seven Seven. He was an ex-husband to Madam Nike Davies-Okundaye, Nigeria’s foremost textile designer. Twins' works had colors, depth, and geometric signs and that was something I really enjoyed looking at. I wanted to paint to his level. However, that has changed over time. Recently I have gotten the chance to enjoy a lot of work from African American artists as well, people like Sam Gilliam, who recently passed away, or [Jean-Michel] Basquiat. But there are also contemporary artists I love as well like Brian Donnelly and Takashi Murakami. I try to pull from diverse areas whether it's American expressionism or Nigeria contemporary art or even Asian artists. I just try to pull from different areas or genres.

On his artistic beginnings  

I was a very competitive child, especially in art. There was a yearning from my end to just instill an attention of detail to my art. I wanted to take things to the next level with my drawing. Slowly, I found myself drawing things I liked and also participating in art in any form, either being in the school drama club or in the band group. When I was in college, I would try to make beads and also paints, even when I started rapping and writing lyrics. There was this creative energy of wanting to create things people will enjoy but I think overtime, as I began experimenting on these things, I sort of gravitated to the one I enjoyed the most and it was painting for me. There was something about the versatility of paint, the fact it could take different textures, you could make a painting that would have so much texture to look like a sculpture but you could make it really flat or watery or it could be something between. For me, that versatility of medium was something I enjoyed and I really could with my hands. It just felt like that tactile experience with material was something that has a strong sense of gravity towards my personality.

Woman looking at Dipo Doherty painting

Photo Credit: Dipo Doherty

On how he uses technology in his artwork  

Anytime I’m done working with tech stuff my mind goes to art immediately. I have trained myself to switch those gears quickly. There are times when ideas could flow between both worlds and I think I’m also seeing that change my process. Initially, a lot of my work up until 2018 was very focused on spontaneous painting. I would have an idea which would be very vague in my mind and I would a start by playing with colors on the canvas. But now my process involves a lot more technology. I use an iPad now. I would sketch the idea on the iPad and I would insert it on the canvas and then, when it’s halfway finished, I would take a photo of it and play around with multiple ideas. And I think that has definitely helped make my work more informed. If I’m at work, I can take my iPad and continue working on a painting. I think technology is making me more efficient in working through my process. I find time where I play with different materials and experiences where I can bring technology into my work whether artificial intelligence or using 3D printing. I think I’m experimenting, just seeing where they take my work in the future.

On what his process is like

A lot of the mediums I choose is based on ideas. Primarily, I use acrylic and paint because they are a versatile medium. But one thing I realized quickly, is that there are certain materials in the world people associate a particular story with. When I’m looking for materials in my mixed media practice, I’m looking for those that are emotionally charged, that have a lot of cultural meaning to people. It’s really hard but I always try to take time to observe people in life and question myself about the materials that people don’t take seriously but resonate with them. And it just makes communicating with people very easier.

I usually try to play on different emotions. In 2018, there was a series of works I exhibited at the National Museum [in Lagos]. I called them “Covalence” and these were works I made out of burnt yellow rulers used in school. I had a chance to work at a public school where I taught civil education and one of the things I didn’t see was the passion of learning and teaching in teachers and I felt like education is something that if you get wrong can have generational consequences. So by doing those works, I was trying to speak on the irreversible nature of damage we are doing to the educational system in Nigeria. A lot of people saw the work and they could tell there was something dark about the work but there was also a sense of nostalgia they felt from seeing the rulers and how it was a object of correction maybe how their teacher would use it to hit their hands or knuckles and I loved that people resonate with the work.

Dipo Doherty in front of painting

Photo Credit: Dipo Doherty

On his "Finding Home" exhibition

It’s my first solo exhibition in the U.S. I think one of the things about finding home is communicating different emotions. One of the works in the exhibition is called “Lost in Translation." I painted a smile, an open mouth, but there was a chaos in this smile highlighted with colors.

The last exhibition I did was in July 2018. that was before I moved to do my masters in the U.S. Four years has past and I felt like I have learnt so much and gotten a lot of exposure and the have also learnt what it means to be a Black man in America. I was someone who grew up in Nigeria and, looking at it, everyone looks like me and sort of thinking about the setbacks people in the Black community in America face. What I didn’t realize was what it would mean for my relationships back home and how home was going to change and so I was in a transitory period I was questioning my idea of home and that has changed in many ways for me, whether it is having more multicultural friends or trying to learn the intonation of communicating with average Americans. And so it was from a linguistics, friendship, cultural perspective and even from a geographical perspective, there were so many thing that had changed for me that I felt like I wanted to tell the story of what it meant, being in this transitional state as a person in the diaspora moving from Africa to the western world.




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