I started the Flat People series a couple of years ago with the intention of making sex happen and bodily fluids take over. But the figures are so flat and the charcoal so dusty that sensuality never kicks in. Only a vague idea of the actions represented makes it through the flatness of the paper, suggesting that representation requires mechanics of its own in order to create true pictures, folded over the semantics of the drawing. By illustrating with candid flatness, I am able to instantly rearrange and inject new tensions into a pre-existing web of meanings.
Some Silly Stories, an animated web series in collaboration with musician Flavien Berger, employed the semantics of Flat People with a renewed focus on using humor to engage viewers in real time. With Some Silly Stories, I piled up peripheral emotions, disregarded notes, repressed drawings, and the leftovers of everyday life into small volcanoes of vulnerability and tenderness. The episodes are generous and emotional, provoking equally charged responses from its viewers, although the nature of the emotions vary from person to person. These diverse reactions function as an ongoing critique that redefines and challenges systems of representation and communication—demonstrating that a language as straightforward as cartoons becomes multi-dimensional and political when confronted with a diversity of opinions.
This Summer in Morocco, I began to explore the multidimensionality of political and social frameworks after my first encounter with Fardaous Funjab.
Imagine the end of a funeral: everyone is exhausted with grief. The psalmodiers are still psalmoding and some people are chewing almonds. Towards the end, my mother shares a dream she had. She says:
I had a dream that mama wanted to start wearing the hijab and I was so mad at her. I said “You taught us, Faith is in your heart; not around your ears. You are a modern woman.” But mama said her decision was made, she would wear the hijab from now on. I wanted to rebel against her so I took Meriem and put her back inside my belly.
In the middle of this insanity, I look at the woman sitting next to me. She is wearing a hijab but seemsunconcerned by my mother’s dream. Too busy texting. The woman introduces herself as Fardaous Funjab, a successful designer who has made a fortune selling Haute Couture hijabs. Her spicy perfume smells like an intoxicating gateway into the mysterious world of covered women. She projects a monstrous, complicatedbreath, an impossible synthesis of hysterical Coran and silent giggles. I compliment her hair, although most of it is hidden underneath her headscarf. She says: “Oh thank you, my hairdresser, Najat, said I would look like the Moroccan Mariah Carey if I let her bleach some of the implants. You live in America right? So you would know! They will believe you! Tell them I look exactly like her. ***wink!”
I look at her thick hair implants. Fardaous seems to be held vertical by them. She would probably sit differently if she were balding. She looks around the crowded living room in grief, and majestically inhales as though she feels the pressure of every single person against her breasts.
I was raised by uncovered Muslim women, with topless beach summers and competing cleavage. Everything about Fardaous seemed to redefine my inherited antagonism towards the hijab. Fardaous Funjab represented the diametrical opposite of my system of values. And yet the raging stream of thickly covered sensuality pouring out of this woman began to wash away the validity of my mother’s judgmental reaction towards the hijab.
Two days later, I meet with Fardaous again and she agrees to let me document two months of her life. I filmed her getting ready in the morning, tracing her eyebrows with her eyes closed, tanning through her mesh body suit, reinventing a mini golf course in her garden and making sales in her million dollar house. The documentation explores the aesthetics of sexiness and reality TV through the lens of a hijab designer.
From the flatness of indulgent cartoons to silly not-so-silly stories, I have focused on the dissolution of tropes and questioning systems of representation through a strategy of magical realism and humor as an unreliable pacifier. My practice has now entered a deeply transitional phase, exploring the encounter of fashion and religion with a focus on the aesthetics of sexuality/sexiness in a contemporary Muslim context.