Fashion shoots, but not as you know them
Moroccan-Belgian photographer Mous Lamrabat has contributed to practically every fashion magazine in the country, and now his highly stylised portraits are on show in Sint-Niklaas
When worlds collide
The exhibition Mousganistan is a world created by fashion photographer Mous Lamrabat based on the elements of his ambiguous background. On one side is his traditional Muslim family, with eight brothers and sisters. On the other side is his hometown of Sint-Niklaas, where the young Lamrabat worked in fast food to buy his favourite Air Jordan sneakers.
Anyone working in the Flemish media or fashion scene know the 36-year-old photographer. He’s been omnipresent over the last few years, shooting editorials for Elle, Knack and De Standaard as well as collections for numerous of brands.
Yet, something was missing. “When I started as a photographer, I just wanted to shoot nice pictures,” he tells me from his exhibition at CC Sint-Niklaas. “But along the way, I noticed how disposable they are. People see them in a magazine, and a week later, they’re gone.”
At the same time, he wanted to grow artistically – but his clients still wanted the same old fashion spreads. “When I tried to push the boundary artistically, just a little bit, it was frowned upon. The same went for shooting black models. Black models are only accepted if they look like in the Colgate ad: light brown and with an afro,” he laughs. “I decided to do my own thing.”
Lamrabat retreated to the country of his roots, Morocco, to unwind. Inspired by the beautiful landscapes, traditional garments and the viral kitsch of pop culture, he began to shoot the work that would become Mousganistan.
“I shot all the photos in a couple of months,” he says. “There was a sort of effortlessness. I had more trouble shooting a simple fashion campaign than shooting these pictures.”
At events where people are networking, I sometimes say that I work in a snack bar. The reactions are hilarious
He used a lot of djellabas. “It is a very fashionable garment with a uniform appearance, hiding people’s social class,” he explains. “Headscarves were a revelation to me. I realised the face sucks up so much attention.”
And then there’s the McDonald’s logo. “I’m a fan. Of the logo, not the company. In Africa, people inject Western pop iconography into their daily lives without knowing it. Our pop culture has become part of their visual language. For instance, you see the names of bars in letters that resemble Western brands.”
Still, Mousganistan is a fashion photography exhibition first. The main intention is visual beauty. It is fashion photography as it should be: eschew the typical poses and labels in favour of interesting shapes. This style of fashion photography is little practiced in Belgium.
Must be better to be equal
But Mousganistan is political, too: “Alle Marokkanen terug naar Turkije” (All Moroccans Go Back to Turkey) is printed on one wall. It’s a quote from a far-right Dutch protestor back in 2014, and it sends a clear message: Ignorance is the foundation of xenophobia.
Although Lamrabat has built a successful career in Belgium, there’s still a somewhat awkward feeling, he says. He feels he has to be seen as being fully integrated in Flemish culture, as well as be extra friendly, in order to be accepted at the same level as his peers.
He even changed his name from Moustafa to Mous, so as to seem more approachable to the average local. “As a foreigner, you have to earn respect in order to simply be accepted.”
Sometimes he breaks the ice with humour. “At events where people are networking, I sometimes say that I work in a snack bar. The reactions are hilarious.”
My father is the perfect Muslim. He prays five times a day. And I’m using Muslim rugs as a basketball court
Mousganistan isn’t about Islam, but whether it is or it isn’t, he sometimes gets negative reactions, like on social media. It’s all part of the job, and Lamrabat doesn’t read them.
More important to him was how his father responded. “This was the first time my parents saw this work. It meant a lot to me. But then I thought: What will my dad think of it all? You need to know: My father is the perfect Muslim. He prays five times a day. And I’m using Muslim rugs as a basketball court. Well, when he saw the rugs, he joked: ‘Are you going to donate them to the mosque afterwards?’”
On the other hand, he says, “some girl I don’t know sent me a message, stating: ‘You should be ashamed’. When I check her Instagram account, it’s packed with bathroom selfies.” He laughs. “What should I think of all that?”
Until 4 March, CC Sint-Niklaas, Paul Snoekstraat 1
Photos have been cropped for publication