I was born in northern Morocco, with six siblings. We moved to Belgium when I was two, but we went back to visit my family every year. Those were the best times, when memories were made and inspiration was created. Nostalgia is one of my favorite feelings. It takes you back to when you were more free, and I tried to put the things I grew up with into my work.
There have always been two parts to my work. Fashion, because over there, you can be creative; there are no boundaries – anything can be fashion as long as there are clothes involved. And then there are the things I loved doing. When I was a kid, I remember stitching Nike logos on the hat my dad wore to the mosque, because I thought it was cool. My work is a photographic continuation of that sort of thing.
In 2020, I collaborated with a talented balloon artist for a magazine shoot. I’ve always been a huge sneaker fan and I asked him to design a shoe for me and he did. I took it home and since balloons don’t last long I took this picture right away. It was around the time LA Lakers player Kobe Bryant died, and I was making niqabs with Kobe’s number and Michael Jordan’s number printed on them. I thought to myself: maybe I can take a picture with the Jordan niqab and the Nike shoe, as if, what if, in a parallel universe, it was the basketball uniform?
I try to create a parallel world where my own aesthetic is there, but with traditional clothing. It’s how I fantasize about things, and it feels like time travel, similar to how in futuristic movies you see a lot of traditional clothing coming back, but with very high-tech elements added. People often say that I’m trying to bridge two different worlds, but it’s more that I’m trying to put different eras together.
Just as we easily recognize nurses’ uniforms, traditional clothing tells a story. I often choose traditional clothes that remind me of where I come from, the kind of place I’m connected to, the things I saw my grandmother wearing.
Creating these images for myself, I never imagined so many people would relate to them. There’s something recognizable for a lot of bands, I guess. I love sneakers, I grew up with basketball and hip-hop culture, and if you look at what’s cool right now, it’s exactly that kind of streetwear.
Race is something that concerns me. But in my work, I focus on what we all have in common. Visually, I try to show how the aesthetic where I come from works well with the aesthetic from another part of the world. I love that you can see all kinds of people of all colors and ages looking at the same photo as mine in a gallery. That’s how my whole fantasy world works – showing that these things go well together; they work together. How come we can’t do that in real life?
My recent cover image for GQ Middle East is a continuation of those things that work well together – djellabas with basketball jerseys worn over them. We still go to the mosque every Friday with my dad, and when we played basketball afterwards, we wore our shirts underneath. Now I put it just above.
Sometimes I see negative responses to my work. Usually it’s about covering women, like, “Why do you romanticize the cover?” from a group that is against hijabs and headscarves. Or people who wear the veil say, “Why do you romanticize and disrespect veiled women?” It’s hard, but when I hear these things, it’s usually after people have shared my work on platforms where there’s no context, and those people don’t know me or what I stand for. .
Mous Lamrabat: Blessings of Musganistan is at Moss, Amsterdamuntil October 16.
CV of Mous Lamrabat
Born: Temsaman, Morocco, 1983.
Influence : “Anything that arouses a feeling or emotion in me.”
High point: “My first solo exhibition with all my family and friends.”
Low point: “People misinterpret my work and break my heart with their ignorance.”
Trick : “Find your own ‘normal’. Deconstruct everything you know.