Merging Moroccan heritage with Western cues, Mous Lamrabat, nominated by Vogue Italia's Chiara Bardelli Nonino, creates images rich in wit and colour
Each year, British Journal of Photography presents its Ones To Watch – a selection of 19 emerging image-makers, chosen from a list of nearly 750 nominations. Collectively, they provide a window into where photography is heading, at least in the eyes of the curators, editors, agents, festival producers and photographers we invited to nominate made by our global network of experts. Every weekend throughout May, BJP-online is sharing profiles of the 19 photographers, originally published in the magazine.
Mous Lamrabat has an unwavering faith in the power of intuition. If it wasn’t for his gut instinct, he might have begun his career at an esteemed architecture practice upon finishing his studies in interior design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, as he had intended to, and never have turned to photography at all.
“They asked, ‘Can you come in and sign the papers on Monday?’ But the whole weekend, I felt unsettled,” he remembers. When Monday morning came, Lamrabat called to politely decline the job o er, and reoriented the creative process he had developed over years of study to create images instead of spaces.
In the time since that fateful decision, Lamrabat has built a name for himself creating luscious photographs rich with colour, wit and unexpected combinations of his own cultural cues. His first solo show, titled Mousganistan, was held at the beginning of this year in Sint-Niklaas in Belgium.
Born in the north of Morocco, he moved with his family (which included eight siblings) to Belgium when he was very young – the intersection of his African and European identities providing a fertile ground on which to draw.
It’s the joy in this tension that caught the eye of Chiara Bardelli Nonino, photo editor at Vogue Italia. “I came across Lamrabat’s work on Instagram and was immediately struck by how beautifully he merged Moroccan heritage and Western imagery. In particular, fashion visual culture – sometimes referencing it, sometimes teasing it,” she says. “His images, with their vibrant colours, playfulness and powerful, extremely personal aesthetics, are the most tangible proof that when cultures interact and cross-pollinate, something unique happens.”
This visual mongrelism began with photographs featuring figures shrouded in colourful cloth, he explains. “I was with my girlfriend, and we were road-tripping in Morocco. Everything was so beautiful. I wanted to do something so abstract that it doesn’t have anything to do with a face or a body.” Playing with fabric in this way nods, too, towards his own heritage as a Moroccan Muslim. “I think for me, as a… I don’t know what to call it, so let’s just keep saying ‘immigrant’ – it’s important to talk about my heritage. Whatever happens in these times, I just want to show that we’re creative, we have such a rich culture. It’s beautiful.”
The “something unique” to which Bardelli Nonino refers might be due in part to Lamrabat’s process; there’s a special kind of alchemy at work in his images – and that comes from not planning every last detail. “I always try and place myself in a universe where nothing has been created yet,” he explains of his approach.
By eliding photography’s rich history, and the avalanche of images with which we are confronted daily, he prompts an emotional response in his viewer. It’s what makes his pictures so memorable. “I don’t plan out what I’m going to do,” he says. “It’s a basic starting idea, there’s a lot of trial and error. Creative things are like that. Life is like that.”