Meriem Bennani’s new artwork, Your Year by Fardaous Funjab, features the most recent hijab in the artist’s fictional line of high fashion headscarves. This thirty-second video, part of the Public Art Fund’s Commercial Break series, features an ever-evolving hijab that can be worn throughout the year. One headcovering commemorates various Islamic holidays as well as secular events. As the seasons change, the hijab morphs on the Barclays Center’s “Oculus” screen into eight distinct versions, ranging from generic autumnal attire to a headscarf for Ramadan. The functional fashion of the rotating hijab offers a jocular take on the media’s portrayal of the Muslim head covering.
Bennani’s “Fardaous Funjab” project began a few years ago as a mashup of two unlikely fixations: the hijab and reality TV. On a visit to her native Morocco, the artist noticed that more women seemed to be wearing the veil. Bennani, who had been watching the show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, borrowed the format of reality television to explore the cultural significance of the head covering. While the Kardashians reveled in the latest American fashions, Bennani’s show follows a female entrepreneur, an “avant-garde hijab designer,” played by the artist’s mother. Reflecting on her “funjabs”–especially, earlier preposterous iterations containing a birthday cake, basket for tennis balls, and Metallica logo–Bennani said, “I have accepted that humor is the way I express myself, but I want to make pieces that are more subtle and flattering for women wearing [the hijab].”1
For the latest video in the “funjab” series, Bennani wanted to expand her knowledge on the subject by seeking the counsel of women who wear the hijab. These women, two of whom are shown in Your Year, gave Bennani advice and feedback for the newest video, and she also discovered that wearing a hijab is often a complex and personal choice. Bennani believes that opening a sensitive conversation about the hijab is relevant, and she has been cautious throughout the process of developing the new video.
The latest “advertisement” shows two women sporting the holiday hijab. Without sound, the women are a breathing portrait that highlights eight strategically selected holidays. Bennani explained that these holidays are not the most important events throughout the calendar. Rather, she selected events and imagery that salute both Muslim and American cultures. For example, American flags are used appropriately for Independence Day, while an image of a clenched fist signifies Black History Month. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is commemorated with hyacinth flowers and colorful eggs atop the headscarf. One hijab is used for all the holidays, a symbolic gesture of inclusion.
The artist’s straightforward message of tolerance reiterates a prescient attitude. The need for acceptance has been underscored by recent events such as President Trump’s executive order banning entry from seven majority-Muslim countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. The public setting of this film prompted Bennani to be mindful of her potential audiences. Because of the broad range of people that will have access to the video, Bennani needed to be explicit in her objective to employ fashion–and humor–to honor cultural diversity, an idea worth celebrating.
Meriem Bennani: Your Year by Fardaous Funjab will continue at the Barclays Center, playing on the “Oculus” screen (620 Atlantic Ave. at Flatbush Ave.) as part of the Public Art Fund’s Commercial Break series. The video screens once an hour on Saturdays through March 5.
Meriem Bennani (b. 1988, Rabat, Morocco) lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Her recent solo shows include: Green Sea Gardens, Art Dubai, Dubai (2017); FLY, MoMA PS1, New York (2016); Gradual Kingdom, Signal Gallery, Brooklyn (2015); and Fardaous Funjab, Stream Gallery, New York (2015). Her work has also been shown internationally in group exhibitions including Flying House, Shanghai Biennale (2016); Reality Bytes, Frank F. Yang Art & Education Foundation, Shenzhen (2016); We Dance, We Smoke, We Kiss, Flax Fahrenheit, LA (2016); Unorthodox, The Jewish Museum, New York (2016); ARA-B-LESS ?, Saatchi Gallery, London (2015); Surface Support, SIGNAL, Brooklyn (2015); NEWD Art Show, The 1896, New York (2015); Kick in the Door, MANA Contemporary, New Jersey (2015); UOVO x NEWD, Freehand, Miami (2014); Paste, Brooklyn (2014); and Humain trop humain, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2014). Bennani earned a BFA from The Cooper Union in New York and a MFA from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. Meriem Bennani is represented by Signal Gallery, Brooklyn.