"Graffiti as Fearful Commodity": Princess Hijab, the Muslim Woman, and Anti-Consumerism

Mariam Esseghaier
Concordia University

[1] In the underground metro of Paris, a graffiti artist known as Princess Hijab wanders the corridors. Princess Hijab's graffiti has gained worldwide attention as she paints black niqabs (face coverings worn by some Muslim women) over advertisements. Employing a guerilla style approach, Princess Hijab performs her graffiti at night, wears a costume, and keeps her identity hidden. Her work only lasts for approximately an hour before being removed by the authorities (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 10). In a video interview featured on Al-Jazeera.com, Princess Hijab explains one aspect that attracts her to the veil. Princess Hijab says that the niqab has "many symbols attached to it in the Western world and in the Eastern world" ("Princess Hijab's 'Veiling Art,'"2010).

[2] This article focuses on Princess Hijab's graffiti within the theoretical framework of Michel de Certeau's strategies and tactics. I demonstrate that Princess Hijab's act of targeting of advertisements in the metro functions as a tactic to comment on and criticize consumerism. The superimposition of the niqab over these advertising images operates to alter the relationship between individuals and advertisements and functions to engage the individual with consumerism in a more critical manner. However, I argue that this alteration in viewership is contingent on reinforcing a representation of the Muslim woman as threatening and Othered. This graffiti is occurring in French culture which has a long history of colonialism, debates, and laws with regards to Muslims, specifically Muslim women. My analysis situates Princess Hijab's graffiti within this cultural landscape. In this respect, the graffiti creates an "anti-advertisement" which does not operate to intrigue the viewer, but to arouse fear in the viewer. In doing so, Princess Hijab's graffiti produces a "fearful commodity" in which consumerism is problematized but representations of the Muslim woman are static and unchanging. Ultimately, Princess Hijab's work to criticize consumerism operates to further Other the Muslim woman in France.


[3] Graffiti has long been questioned as a legitimate art form. Graffiti is often either classified as an act of vandalism performed by teenagers or as an act of creative self-expression performed by street artists. Several scholars, however, argue that situating graffiti within this dichotomous relationship between art and crime simplifies a more complex issue and ignores the possibility of understanding graffiti as serving as both art and crime (Halsey & Young, 2002, p. 169; McAuliffe & Iveson, 2011, p. 130). Questioning this dichotomous understanding of graffiti, however, creates a much more complex issue which involves understanding graffiti within the context of the city.

[4] Situating the practice of graffiti within the larger framework of the city shifts the perspective from questions of legality and artistic expression to questions of how graffiti operates to disrupt this understanding of the city as a place of social order (McAuliffe & Iveson, 2002, p. 133). From this theoretical standpoint, graffiti allows individuals to negotiate and reconstruct their environments "not intended to act as a communication medium" and "subvert [...] property relations and the commodification of urban space" (McAuliffe & Iveson, 2002, p. 140). These practices demonstrate the manner in which graffiti artists carve individual spaces for themselves and disrupt the larger social order of the city. Ultimately, this view of graffiti as disruptive to social order questions not only the intentions of the graffiti artist, but also how the work is received and interpreted within the context of the city.

De Certeau's "Strategies" and "Tactics"

[5] This perspective of graffiti operating within and disrupting the social order of the city is similar to Michel de Certeau's concept of "strategies" and "tactics" discussed in his book The Practice of Everyday Life. In this work, de Certeau focuses on how the city is a system of structures and how individuals understand themselves in relation to these organizational constructions. De Certeau rejects the view that individuals passively follow these established systems and rules and instead suggests that individuals negotiate and maneuver through institutional structures in ways that are not intended in their production (1988, pp. xi-xii). To illustrate the relationship between the institutional structures and individuals, de Certeau uses two categories: "strategies" and "tactics."

[6] According to de Certeau, strategies and tactics operate within a power dynamic. Strategies are structures which operate from the position of power and attempt to force certain patterns on individuals (1988, p. 38, p. 30). Tactics, on the other hand, are actions from those without power who use and negotiate these spaces differently than intended (1988, pp. 29-30). Ultimately, "[t]he space of a tactic is the space of the other" and "an art of the weak" (1988, p. 37). What de Certeau demonstrates in this framework is that while strategies are instrumental in the creation of power structures and regulations, the manners in which individuals without power operate within these structures do not always conform to these strategies.

[7] From this perspective, graffiti appears to operate as a tactic within the structural order of the city. As previously mentioned, McAuliffe and Iveson state that graffiti operates to create spaces for communication and responds to commodification in the fabric of the city. The graffiti, then, is an example of a tactic from individuals who may not be in the position of power and of how they find a method to negotiate within a powerful structure. Graffiti functions to make visible the structures which have become part of the "[d]ominant expectations of visual order" (Austin, 2012, p. 43). Ultimately, graffiti targeting commercialization and consumer culture is a tactic to highlight the manner in which consumption has become normalized to the extent of its invisibility.

Who is Princess Hijab?

[8] Princess Hijab serves as an example of how graffiti operates within the framework of de Certeau's strategies and tactics. Around 2006, black paint began appearing on advertisements in the underground Paris metro (Aburawa, 2009, para. 1). This graffiti, which specifically targets advertisements for a variety of companies including H&M (Appendix A) and Virgin (Appendix B) in the underground metro, drew attention because the graffiti consisted of black paint on the faces and bodies shaped as niqabs. This phenomenon created speculation in the news and in the blogosphere as many began to question who was responsible for this graffiti and what could be his or her intended message.

[9] The graffiti artist named "Princess Hijab" was identified as the source of the paintings; however, there are very few confirmed details about Princess Hijab's identity. As of now, the known information includes that she is of French nationality and resides in Paris, and she was born in 1988 ("Austrian Cultural Forum," para. 1). There was also speculation that Princess Hijab is Muslim (Chrisafis 2010, para. 5; Sandels, 2009, para. 23), but she has confirmed that she is not (Nosenzo, 2011, para. 4; Aburawa, 2009, para. 1; Grace, 2010, para. 3). Largely, however, Princess Hijab's identity still remains a mystery, resulting in different interpretations of her work.

[10] Due to Princess Hijab's anonymity and guerilla graffiti style, many writers and bloggers have referred to her as mysterious. With only the name "Princess Hijab" to guide the public interpretation of her graffiti, her artwork sparked questions, concerns, criticisms, and interpretations. Princess Hijab has been referred to as "elusive" (Aburawa, 2009, para. 1; Chrisafis, 2010, para. 2), as "a mysterious character" ("Austrian Cultural Forum," para 1), and as a "guerilla artist" (Nosenzo, 2011, para. 4). In addition, her graffiti has been subject to a range of interpretations. These characterizations include Princess Hijab as being pro-Islam (Aburawa, 2009, para. 11), anti-feminist (Aburawa, 2009, para. 1), pro-feminist (Nosenzo, 2011, para. 3), and anti-consumerist (Nosenzo, 2011, para. 3; Battersby, 2010, para. 2; Sandels, 2009, para. 9). Princess Hijab, remaining elusive in her response to these varied characterizations, stated "It's all very interesting—but at the end of the day, I am above all an artist" (Aburawa, 2009, para. 11). Princess Hijab seems to intentionally maintain mystery in regards to her identity and her work. However, in conducting several interviews, some indications emerged as to what Princess Hijab is trying to communicate.

[11] As I will demonstrate, while Princess Hijab considers her painting as art, it is also situated within the post-graffiti movement. Princess Hijab's employs a similar guerilla style and anonymity as Parisian graffiti street artist Blek le Rat and British graffiti street artist Banksy (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 5). Blek le Rat is "considered the godfather of stencil graffiti art" (Wilson, 2010, para. 1). Blek le Rat had also been an anonymous street artist since 1981, when he first began his artwork, but his identity has since been revealed as Xavier Prou (Wilson, 2010, para. 2). The style he employed was revolutionary for the period as during this time in Paris graffiti was predominantly "letter-based New York style of tagging" (Iverson, 2007, para. 2). Banksy, the British graffiti artist, is gaining more attention, not only for his street art in the UK, but also for his street art in the West Bank, for having his work added to museums like the British Museum, and for having his work sold to celebrities like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Urbanist, (no date), para. 4, para. 3, para. 6). Banksy also published four official books: Banging Your Head Against A Brick Wall, Existencilism, Cut It Out, and Wall and Piece ("Banksy Books," (no date), para. 2). Also, the 2010 documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop, focuses on Banksy and his graffiti. Banksy has also become known for his anonymity and guerilla style graffiti. Banksy has cited Blek le Rat as the artist who "blazed the trail" for his own work (Iverson, 2007, para. 1).

[12] Blek le Rat and Banksy's graffiti have both been described as part of the "post-graffiti" movement (Iverson, 2007, para. 2; Dickens, 2008, p. 474). Post-graffiti operates differently than graffiti "in its attempt to directly engage with urban audiences through 'readable' iconographic inscriptions—using critical, intriguing and often humorous graphics—in order to challenge their visual understandings and appreciations of the city" (Dickens, 2008, p. 474). It is within this stream of "post-graffiti" that Princess Hijab's art is making its interrogations.

Princess Hijab's Graffiti as Tactic

[13] In relation to de Certeau's concept of strategies and tactics, Princess Hijab is participating in the "art of the weak," as she understands her work as part of a larger "graffiti of minorities" (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 13). Princess Hijab further identifies herself with those considered "outsiders," as she stated she is interested in "the margins of any group though, as they're likely to be the ones thinking for themselves" (Grace, 2010, para. 3). In this respect, Princess Hijab identifies herself as outside of the social order and her work as "us[ing], manipulate[ing], and divert[ing]" the city structure (Certeau, 1988, p. 30). Princess Hijab's influences include Adbusters, Naomi Klein's No Logo, "[t]he anti-advertising movement...the gender movements...the straight edge, the nerd-centrism, atheism symbolism, urban legends, the allegories and the new myths" (Sandels, 2009, para. 13). These different movements are similar in that they were developed from the margins to resist dominant ideologies. Furthermore, Princess Hijab intervenes in the everyday, in the invisible, as a means of demonstrating what individuals take for granted. In this case, the advertisements in the metro are part of the "strategies" of the city and her graffiti is her tactical response. Princess Hijab aims to have "people come across things when they're 'just browsing,' so they can be completely unprepared for it" (Grace, 2010, para. 4). In this respect, Princess Hijab is engaging with commodification and her graffiti serves to problematize and highlight how normalized this practice has become and how individuals should be more aware of this system.

Graffiti as Fearful Commodity and the Anti-Advertisement

[14] This practice of creating graffiti black niqabs on advertisements brings together discourses on consumerism, immigration, religion, secularism, and the Muslim woman. The niqab operates in French cultural memory as a controversial and contentious symbol and as such, serves as a contemporary and relevant tool to disrupt the social order created through advertisements that populate the underground metro. While Princess Hijab claims to use this imagery because it is challenging, what is missing from that statement is the question of "why is it challenging?" The symbol of the niqab is challenging in the French cultural context because it has served as a symbol of the Other throughout French history and is culturally understood as a non-French symbol. In this sense, Princess Hijab is disrupting the social order, problematizing advertising and consumerism by employing the image of the niqab. However, the niqab itself is not problematized in this dynamic and operates to reproduce deeply engrained colonial discourses about Muslim women.

[15] This practice of anti-advertising, or "adbusting," is a term often used in reference to the practice of "culture jamming." According to Tim Cresswell "[i]n Culture Jamming the signs and significations of the mass media are hijacked and diverted to both draw attention to the original message and create new messages with radically different intent" (1998, p. 274). Adbusting "means to engage in critical evaluations of the content and broader implications of commercial advertisements" (Curry-Tash, 1998, p. 43). In initially engaging with Princess Hijab's graffiti, I was interested in the manner in which this adbusting or culture jamming operated to normalize the Muslim woman through questioning the idealized and hegemonic bodies present in advertising. In this respect, Princess Hijab simultaneously critiques consumerism while also forcing the predominantly non-Muslim population to interact with the Muslim minority. While I would contend that this is perhaps Princess Hijab's intention in her graffiti, this becomes more complicated given the specific context of the Muslim woman in France. I use the term "anti-advertisement," then, as the advertisement that does not entice and invite consumers, as advertisements aim to do, and that is not a critique of consumerism, as culture jamming or adbusting attempts. Instead, anti-advertisement is that which portrays a lifestyle that is not desirable according to hegemonic French lifestyles. The lifestyle, then, is altered to represent the antithesis of the desirable and uses the Muslim woman in order to create this anti-advertisement. This graffiti creates a fearful commodity through the imagery of the Muslim woman by reproducing discourses around Muslim communities as a threat to French society.

[16] Ultimately, the graffiti does not normalize the Muslim woman through its visibility, but instead creates a visibility of the image that counters a hegemonic Western ideal around beauty, consumerism, and imagery. In doing so, the connotations associated with the Muslim woman are exploited and reinforce a threatening, challenging, and Othered image of Muslim women and does very little to problematize these representations. Through the graffiti imagery, the Muslim woman remains a static, backwards, and intimidating figure in an attempt to problematize understandings of consumerism. In this respect, the problematization of consumerism is altered from a fear and challenge of the act of consumption to a fear of being consumed by the Other.

Why the Hijab?

[17] In many interviews, articles, and blogs about Princess Hijab the question that is always raised is: Why does Princess Hijab use the image of the veil in her graffiti? Her work has been referred to as "Hijabizing" ("Austrian Cultural Forum," para. 1), "hijabisation," and "niqab intervention" (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 2; para. 6) which serves as "a metaphor for cultural subversion and heretic action" ("Austrian Cultural Forum," para.1). In this sense, her graffiti uses the religious terminology associated with the banned clothing and connects itself through reproducing the imagery of this clothing, but the metaphor itself is not in connection to religious practice. When questioned as to why Princess Hijab uses the niqab, Princess Hijab responds that she uses it "for myself" (Aburawa, 2009, para. 6). In this respect, Princess Hijab is attempting to take the hijab out of its "gendered and religious context and convert it into a symbol of empowerment and re-embodiment" (Aburawa, 2009, para. 8). Princess Hijab argues that she uses the hijab because she is "inspired by contradiction" (Grace, 2010, para. 2) and the hijab "challenges, it frightens, and it re-imagines" (Wooster Collective, 2009, para. 3) and that this "makes people feel awkward and ill at ease" (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 9). As such, Princess Hijab does not employ the hijab to connect the advertisements to religion, but to challenge the viewer to criticize consumerism.

[18] This tactic is similar to the punk movement of the twentieth century as described by Greil Marcus. Marcus describes how The Sex Pistols, the punk band, tried to disrupt the way people normally respond to culture. The Sex Pistols, he argues, intervened into the "ideological constructs perceived and experienced as natural facts" and "call[ed] the enterprise as a whole into question" (1990, p. 3). Punk operated to challenge the norms of everyday life and force the listener to question what has become natural. Princess Hijab claims this is the same purpose for her hijabisations.

[19] The hijab has not always been associated with Islam. Leila Ahmed demonstrates in her book, Women and Gender in Islam, that the meaning of the veil has often been reappropriated and changed over historical periods. In the pre-Islamic period, the veil had been used to identify the specific socio-economic class of women, to indicate her sexual availability, and also, during the colonial period, to symbolise Muslim women's oppression (1992, pp.14-15, p. 152). The meaning is often determined by figures of authority. Ahmed argues that Lord Cromer, the British Consul-General in Egypt, identified the hijab as a symbol of oppression for political purposes in an attempt to frame the Egyptian culture as inferior (1992, p. 152). Frantz Fanon discusses this same tactic in the context of colonial Algeria. The veil was described as depicting a symbol of the inferiority of the Algerian culture in an attempt to change Algerian culture from within (1965, p. 39). However, as Ahmed demonstrates, Muslim women then began wearing the veil as a symbol of resistance (1992, p. 164). In this respect, the meaning of the veil can change throughout historical periods and cultural contexts. The veil's meaning is not fixed and Princess Hijab is aiming to separate the veil from its stereotypical meaning. My analysis does not aim to suggest there is only one way to view Princess Hijab's graffiti, or that the veil is inherently connected to Islam; my analysis presents one type of viewership of Princess Hijab's graffiti which is informed by contemporary French culture and colonial history.

The Headscarf Debate in France

[20] France has a long colonial history with many ethnic groups, especially Arabs and Muslims from North Africa. This dynamic tension within France is heightened by France's standards as a secular state (Tissot, 2011, p. 44; Body-Gendrot, 2007, p. 294; Scott, 2007, p. 15; Saas, 2001, p. 453). The French secular republic is meant to operate as one in "which everyone is part of a one and indivisible nation and equal before the law, whatever their origins, race, or class" (Body-Gendrot, 2007, p. 294). Joan Wallach Scott claims that "laïcité,"[1] "is part of the mythology of the specialness and superiority of French republicanism" (2007, p. 15). However, such a system "ignores ethnic and racial demands" which is reflected in the French government with a small percentage of members of post-colonial descent (Body-Gendrot, 2007, p. 290). Taking this into account, French nationalism, represented through secularism, is exclusive and any form of difference operates as a threat to that identity. Ultimately, Muslims, specifically Muslim women wearing headscarves, "were taken to be a violation of French secularism and, by implication, a sign of the inherent non-Frenchness of anyone who practiced Islam, in whatever form" (Scott, 2007, p. 15). France's political system, then, is structured around the notion of a homogenized nationalism, one in which public displays of religion are unacceptable (Scott, 2007, p. 15). Ultimately, Muslim women are considered to be not only excluded from French nationalism, but intolerable to French national identity.

[21] The current political context in France, however, is preceded by a long colonial legacy of the French colonial rule in North Africa. This history serves as a precursor for the headscarf debate in France. Scott argues that "we cannot understand contemporary debates about the veil without its history: in French eyes, the veil has long been a symbol of the irreducible difference and thus the inassimilability of Islam" (2007, p. 45). An often cited example of France's colonial history is French occupation of Algeria. During French colonial rule, the veil served as a symbol of both the unprogressive nature of Algeria, but "also a sign of the frustration, even the humiliation, of France" (Scott, 2007, p. 66). Frantz Fanon identified the veil as "the bone of contention" within the battle between France and Algeria (1965, pp. 36-37). In this case, the veil operated as the symbol of Algerian culture, specifically the Algerian woman, and it was a symbol that needed to be destroyed (1965, p. 37). This colonial history is entrenched in French culture and constantly resurfaces in contemporary debates.

[22] Princess Hijab's work began to appear in 2006, only two years following the French ban on the headscarves in public schools (Aburawa, 2009, para. 5; Scott, 207, p.1). More recently, France banned the wearing of any face covering in public places (Bowen, 2011, p. 326). These laws received support from individuals who believe it upholds French values (Al-Saji, 2010, p. 880; Bowen, 2011, p. 326; Tissot, 2011, p. 39), supports liberated women (Tissot, 2011, p. 41), and is against sexism (Al-Saji, 2010, p. 880). Many who oppose these laws argue that it is racist (Al-Saji, 2010, p. 876, p. 880), unfairly targets Muslim women (Scott, 2007, p. 1), and ultimately in these discourses "Muslim women themselves did not have a voice" (Al-Saji, 2010, p. 876).

[23] The debates about the headscarf and the niqab have colonial connotations and operate as signifiers of the Muslim Other in France. As is the case of colonial Algeria, in contemporary French culture the headscarf became understood as the "symbol of the 'problem of Islam' for the French republic" (Scott, 2007, p. 21). While Muslim women were understood as oppressed victims without rights who required saving, they also represented "a threat to French society" (Tissot, 2011, pp. 42-43). The language in both the headscarf and niqab laws reflected these ideals. The language in the law with regards to the headscarf described it in terms of being "harm-based." In this respect, the law against the headscarf was framed as protecting women who did not want to wear the headscarf (Bowen, 2011, p. 329). The law banning the niqab was structured to construct the niqab as a rejection of French values (Bowen, 2011, p. 334). These contemporary laws demonstrate the manner in which the colonial mentality is still maintained in French culture, and the way the hijab and niqab still serve to represent the colonized Other. Even in the language of the laws, the critique of Islam operates in this political and legitimated discourse. Furthermore, this contemporary discourse demonstrates the manner in which discourses surrounding the Muslim woman as Other, as immigrant, as non-assimilable, and as non-French, are regularly reproduced in French culture. In this respect, the Muslim woman is still actively part of the French cultural ideology through her constant exclusion.

[24] It is within this specific cultural and political context in which Princess Hijab's graffiti has emerged and resonated, but also been discussed, criticized, and appropriated. While Princess Hijab has maintained that her intention is apolitical and that she uses the hijab because it disrupts, due to these historical and colonial connotations, it operates as an Othering technique, ultimately, separating the hijab from this context is almost impossible. Furthermore, French nationalism and ideology is highly influenced and contingent on these discourses. Princess Hijab's graffiti reproduces discourses about Muslim women and their threat to French society.

Consumerism and the Consumer as Viewer

[25] France, like many Western countries, operates as a consumer culture in which consumption and advertising have become pervasive. Consumer cultures rely on and encourage constant consumption by its members (Bauman, 2007, p. 53). In this context, advertisements operate to convince individuals that they must consume products beyond their essential needs (Sassatelli, 2007, p. 2). However, these advertisements do not solely sell products; they also sell lifestyles and ideologies. Naomi Klein states in the tenth-anniversary edition of her book No Logo that she "decided to write No Logo when [she] realized these seemingly disparate trends were connected by a single idea—that corporations should produce brands, not products" (2009, p. xiii). These brands, or lifestyles, are "designed to reflect and appeal to our common desires, beliefs, and values" (Sturgeon, 2009, p. 27). In doing so, advertisements "create ideological connection" because of the manner in which "they reflect preexisting ideological narratives" (Sturgeon, 2009, p. 28). Ultimately, advertisements are much more than a means to promote a product; they function to reinforce and reproduce ideologies and firmly held cultural beliefs to encourage the act of consumption from its citizens.

[26] However, meanings are not inherent in an image or an advertisement but are a product of a relationship between the viewer and the image they are viewing. The importance in recognizing this relationship is due to the manner in which individuals develop their understanding of an image from their memories, worldviews, and cultural beliefs (Hall & Evans, 1999, p. 4). In The Sacred Gaze, David Morgan argues that the "gaze consists of several parts: a viewer, fellow viewers, the subject of their viewing, the context or setting of the subject, and the rules that govern the particular relationship between viewers and subject" (2005, p. 4). Together, the ideologically-driven advertisements and the memory of the viewer produce the meaning of an image. Advertisers rely on the ideologies conveyed in the image to respond to the viewer's cultural beliefs. When this occurs, the advertisements are normalized and they appear natural to the viewer.

The Metro as Consumer Space

[27] Within this consumerist context, the metro operates as an important site as it serves as a heightened consumerist environment. Princess Hijab stated in her 2009 interview with the Wooster Collective that she uses the site of the metro for her graffiti "for the same reason the advertisers do: It's a place where the whole city is a captive audience" (Wooster Collective, 2009, para. 5). Princess Hijab targets the advertisements in this space because individuals have become accustomed to them and because they have become normalized in the eye of the consumer (Grace, 2010, para. 4). The metro serves as the location in which the advertisements have a stronger presence due to the confined space in which individuals contact these advertisements. In an interview with Janelle Grace, Princess Hijab stated that her graffiti aims to "'close the distance,' between advertising and individuals, particularly in regards to body image" and she continued, to state that "[a]dvertising is something which, when it's well done, stabs directly into the personal, so it's a little strange that we're so used to it" (Grace, 2010, para. 4). According to this statement, the black niqabs painted on the advertisements inevitably change and disrupt the relationship between the viewer and the image.

[28] Almost all of the metro advertisements Princess Hijab selected for her graffiti portray white, thin, uncovered bodies which reflect idealized images which are not only physically perfect, but also appeal to cultural ideology and have become a hegemonic norm in many Western societies. The graffitied advertisements operate as a means to problematize the normative relationship individuals have with these advertisements. Since individuals identify themselves as consumers in societies based on consumption (Sassatelli, 2007, p. 2), the black niqab forces the individual to identify differently with the advertisement and understand themselves as something other than a consumer. Ultimately, the black niqab operates to alter the relationship between the viewer and the viewed and confront the normalized relationship that has developed, rather than allow the advertisement to appeal to the viewer's cultural values.

[29] While Princess Hijab stated that her graffiti has little to do with the French laws banning the headscarf and the niqab (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 13), the question remains whether or not the imagery Princess Hijab employs can actually be divorced from its cultural context. Since, as previously mentioned, meaning is not inherent in an image or clothing, the niqab imagery should be able to represent simply an anti-consumerist stance. However, as Princess Hijab has stated, the niqab is used to "disrupt" the relationship between the viewer and the advertisement, and my analysis focuses on this disruption. This disruption is based on cultural politics, stereotypes, and myths which circulate and reproduce a fearful and threatening image of the Muslim woman. The imagery reinforces discourses that fear the Muslim woman's body. Princess Hijab's graffiti operates in conjunction with the headscarf debate in France and in culturally embedded discourses about Muslim women.

The Muslim Woman in the Underground

[30] From this perspective, I argue that Princess Hijab's graffiti operates to create a fearful commodity. While Princess Hijab does not intend to use the veil as a symbol for the Muslim woman in a political commentary, the veil is far too entrenched in French culture to be easily detached from it. Princess Hijab's graffiti does operate to make visible the Muslim woman in a context in which she is banned; however, I am questioning the circumstances of that visibility. While I do agree that Princess Hijab is successful in altering the relationship between individuals and the advertisements they encounter, this change in engagement is at the price of further Othering the Muslim woman.

[31] While the metro serves as a site of heightened consumerism, it also serves as a location "underground" and "out of sight." The metro, then, has connotations of being removed from the mainstream. The laws banning the hijab in public schools and the niqab from public places operate to erase the visibility of the Muslim woman from the fabric of French culture. The underground operates in a similar manner as Princess Hijab's work situates and relegates the Muslim woman to appear in the underground context. Princess Hijab's graffiti places the deviant body, the un-French body, in the underground, and this placement is consistent with the laws banning her presence in above-ground French culture. Furthermore, Princess Hijab's graffiti is torn down approximately 45 minutes to an hour after it is created (Chrisafis, 2010, para. 10), so within an hour of the Muslim woman's deviant appearance she is disciplined through her removal. In this respect, not only is the Muslim woman relegated to the underground, but she is erased and constantly in need of reproduction. The Muslim woman's body is then connected to illegality on another level as, not only is her clothing banned, but now the Muslim woman is associated with illegal graffiti. In doing so, the Muslim woman is portrayed twice over as unacceptable to French culture.

The "Bad" Body Replaces the "Good" Body

[32] The context of the metro operates to reproduce discourses of the Muslim woman, but so does the style of graffiti Princess Hijab performs. Princess Hijab's style, while guerilla graffiti, differs from Banksy's more "counter-cultural prankster" approach (Urbanist, (no date), para. 1). Banksy has become known for his "subversive and satirical"(Urbanist, (no date), para. 3) works, but Princess Hijab is less about satire and humour. Princess Hijab paints black niqabs over advertising images and paints over desirable and hegemonically normative bodies with black niqabs (see Appendix of images). As the advertisements portray this accepted norm, the practice of painting black niqabs serves to illustrate a dichotomy between "good" and "bad" bodies. The "good" bodies, already present in the advertisements, portray acceptable bodies in French culture and reflect French ideology by appealing to common cultural beliefs. These bodies (white, slim, uncovered) are typical for advertisements in Western cultures. These images do not represent any sign of the Other. Princess Hijab's graffiti does not simply include the Muslim woman in the advertisement, but paints the black niqab over these normalized bodies. This imagery operates to represent the Muslim woman as taking over the normalized body in the advertisement. Arwa Aburawa, on the other hand, suggests that these images are not about Muslim women because

If her goal really is to cover up the skin-flashing women in ads, then why leave slinky legs on display underneath the painted-on hijabs? And if she's aiming to make a statement about the dignity of Muslim women, why hijabize male models in Dolce & Gabbana briefs with shoulder-length chadors, leaving their tanned, oiled abs and legs even more preposterously exposed? (Aburawa, 2006, para. 6)

However, I argue that the manner in which the graffiti is painted does not discount how entrenched the image of the veil is in French culture and that the veil does not necessarily need to be portrayed exactly as it is worn to represent Muslim women. Whether or not the niqab covers the entire body, the imagery of the black veil is still understood in terms of the colonial discourse in French law.

[33] Furthermore, leaving part of the normalized body untouched allows for a stronger association of threat from the Muslim woman. For example, in the image in Appendix C, the model in the advertisement for Lafayette Galleries is wearing a tube top in the colours of the French flag. This aspect of her body, her Frenchness, is still visible and only a small part of her face is hidden through Princess Hijab's hijabisation. Her identity as the "norm," as evident in her white skin and the shape of her body draped in the French flag, is available to appeal to the viewer's common ideology about citizenship. This distinction creates an image of the Muslim woman as a threat to French culture and ideals. This threat is illustrated through the manner in which covering part of the body and leaving part of it visible constructs the impression that the Muslim body is overtaking the idealized and acceptable body in the advertisement. Princess Hijab does not erase the "good" body but covers it enough to make it appear as though it is succumbing to the deviant body, to the Other. In doing so, the normalized body still exists within the confines of the Other. The Muslim woman, then, becomes the symbol of not only the "'problem of Islam' for the French republic," but also the Other, slowly forcing the normalized bodies to become deviant.

[34] While the other images (Appendix A, B) do not have any national signifiers like the French flag, they still reflect aspects of French culture including French language, visible skin, and white bodies. Ultimately, these images operate as visual discourse related to the fear of immigrants. As Teun van Dijk points out in his discourse analysis of news coverage, large influxes of immigrants are often described as "waves." This language creates a fear of the immigrant as the "wave" is understood as something that can overwhelm and overtake an individual and their culture (Dijk, 2011). This same discourse translates to Princess Hijab's graffiti in which the Othered body appears to be overwhelming, bleeding into, and taking over French culture. Ultimately, the images reinforce discourses surrounding immigration in which immigrants appear to be a threat to society. As previously mentioned, the Muslim woman is considered a threat to French culture because she does not assimilate properly. In this respect, Princess Hijab's graffiti creates an overpowering image of the Muslim woman, not only as unassimilable, but as a threat to the assimilated bodies.

[35] While the graffiti operates to highlight the distinction between "good" and "bad" bodies, it also closely connects these two sides and creates a hyphenated identity. In the graffiti, the still visible French norm, the ideal, begins to appear like the Other. The "good" body underneath the graffiti becomes obscured and hard to distinguish. Meyda Yeğenoğlu argues that the veil operates to create a stark distinction between the "self" and the "Other." Yeğenoğlu states that the distinction operates to make the Other different and that the Other "should remain different, because I should remain the same" (1999, p. 57, emphasis in original). The veil operates within France's political context as a means to exclude the Other as different, as un-French, but the veil also operates to maintain and preserve the "same" French identity. In Princess Hijab's graffiti, these two sides begin to merge and the norm could be the Other and the Other could be the norm. The graffiti operates to infuse confusion into these dichotomies, which creates fear that French society will soon be a Muslim society. In this respect, the graffiti creates a fearful commodity as the Self becomes indistinguishable from the Other and this distinction is important in French culture and laws. The graffiti creates a fearful commodity as it appears as though the Muslim body is taking over the French body, and by extension French culture.

[36] The graffiti, known for its illegality and deviance, places these connotations onto the image of the Muslim woman. Unlike Banksy, whose artwork is satirical, Princess Hijab does not include humour throughout her body of work. Princess Hijab's graffiti is less likely to be brought into the mainstream than Banksy's. Princess Hijab's work is defined by its deviance and placement on the margins, but this is also where the Muslim woman will perhaps be kept as well.


[37] Princess Hijab's graffiti artwork has understandably sparked interest among the news media and bloggers around the world. The hijab and niqab have long been at the center of debates about Muslim women and discourses of oppression and liberation. Since individuals bring to images their experiences, beliefs, and knowledges, Princess Hijab's graffiti challenges the viewer because the Muslim woman is not supposed to be present in the advertisement, and furthermore, she is not supposed to represent a desirable or purchasable lifestyle. The graffiti poses a challenge to the viewer to understand the advertisement differently, but instead, I argue that this challenge is entrenched in a long history in which the Muslim woman is understood as the Other. In this respect, Princess Hijab is creating a fearful commodity through graffiti by tapping into already strongly held cultural convictions. Princess Hijab's graffiti creates the "anti-advertisement," the product not to be desired, purchased, or attained. This fearful commodity, then, operates to change the patterns of consumption into the fear of consumption. While Princess Hijab intends for individuals to think more about how advertisements operate, she accomplishes this at the expense of perpetuating fearful imagery of the Muslim woman consuming and overtaking the "good" body or citizen. This fearful anti-advertisement operates within discourses surrounding Muslim women and makes an association between fearing consumption and fearing being consumed by the Other.


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Appendix A

Princess Hijab: Princess Hijab


Appendix A.1

daria werbowy lara stone bikini

H&M—Original ad.

Appendix B

Princess Hijab: Princess Hijab


Appendix B.1


Virgin—Original ad.

Appendix C

Princess Hijab: Princess Hijab

Lafayette Galleries—Graffiti.

Appendix C.1


Lafayette Galleries—Original ad.


[1] Laïcité is French for "secularism."