New Criticals

Princess Hijab as Queer Interventionalist: Part Three

It is no accident that the underground world of the Paris metro, carrying its own history of sexual encounter, adds a crucial layer of significance to the larger implications of Princess’s queering or “hijabizing” gestures, which appear in these very spaces. As previously discussed, Princess Hijab’s tags necessitate looking by way of unlawful encounters mobilized by bodies within the urban narrative, a gesture iterative of its very medium—graffiti—which criminally alters State-sanctioned spaces.

Consider, in the following images, the metro's curving ceilings, well-lit, slick cement floors, and peep-hole alcoves. These spaces invoke a sensorium of spatial and emotional measures, intended to control and direct acceptable social behaviors underground.

The spatial environment of the Paris metro has long been the focus of sociological, criminologist, and urban studies, each invested in tracking the affect of these spaces, in order to strategize methods for decreasing future acts of deviance or violence in these spaces.

In a study on the potential for the then new Paris line, Météor (inagurated in 1998, and expanded in 2003 and again in 2007) to lessen crime, professors Marina Myhre from the School of Criminal Studies, and Fabien Rosso discuss the ways in which this line's design philosophy embodies the newest trends in contemporary surveillance. Building upon the minimalist and functionalist philosophies that inform the design of the Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway, and the metro in Washington D.C., Météor in Paris similarly incorporated graffiti-resistant finishes, clear lines of vision increasing surveillance potential, and a layout that minimized unused spaces, dark corners and nooks so as to diminish travelers' fears and anxieties [1].

The built environment's emphasis on instrumental function however, obscures "the perception that the organization, shaping, and attribution of meaning to space is a social process," as Rosalyn Deutsche helpfully reminds us [2]. It is this exact social process that Princess Hijab's hijabizing act foregrounds and dissects through her disruption of the space.

To return to the specific effect of "hijabizing" men with coverings historically worn by women, Princess Hijab's tagging provides a bold metaphor for the ways in which social space (and in particular consumerist space) functions as a type of multivalent dressing for the socially-marked body. Both the veil and the architecture of the Paris metro inhibit and police desire (whether for order or disorder), while allowing a certain element of ambivalence to remain. Like the commuters who may be arriving or departing, the hijabized ads may also serve as points of entry or exit: they simultaneously invite viewers to internalize the gaze of surveillance or offer up symbols of agency, the models having either reclaimed interiority or made their voicelessness hyper-visible.

Ibrahim Abraham's comparison of the veil and the "closet" lends further theoretical gravity to Princess Hijab's queering graffiti tactics. Like Princess Hijab's critique of consumption and commodification, Abraham draws a similar connection between the veil and capitalist spaces, but through the lens of performance studies in his discussion of policing of both Arab bodies and homosexual desire within mainstream (read: heteronormative, Christian) Western society. Abraham argues, "Whilst the regime of the 'closet' or the veil is predicated on the literal denial of their victims' public presence, capitalist spatial logic is predicated on the ubiquity of the sexualized female form, but arguably to an identical political end—the silencing, subordination and fetishistic reduction of women to the level of signification" [3]. In other words, a shared type of silencing occurs through the fetishization of stylized containment; whether by architectural design or the clothing of the body, it is important to note that within the literature, this body is marked as female.

In Princess Hijab's application of the hijab to the male body, however, a new set of fetishistic politics not only makes visible the queer global citizen (otherwise obscured in advertisements), but also undoes binaries of coming and going, covered and bared, to make way for a more ambivalent position of waiting or being dressed. Like Abraham who concludes, provcatively, that "the threat of the queer space exists alongside the threat to queer space from the forces of homophobic repression," the same holds true for the tensions made tangible by Princess Hijab's graffiti tags [4].

Interestingly, Myhre and Rosso make note in their study, that the Météor line's use of architectural discipline, implemented via specific aesthetic details aimed to "induce guilt or shame" as its own form of crime prevention [5]. The incorporation of public shaming into the very architectural design of the Paris metro further complicates the gesture made by Princess Hijab's "hijabizing" act in this space. In addition, the confusion of signs, suggested not only by the hijab, but the inclusion of the "pirate eye patch" in the Dolce & Gabana ad, reiterates how multiple layers of camp and critique embedded within such re-marking of public social space create different social experiences, depending on the viewers' literacy. In short, this type of graffiti cultivates viewership attuned to the veil and its capacity for generating a queering optic, but only if commuters endeavor to look through the jarring images to consider how the tags redress not only bodies but the marking of social spaces.

So what is the role of the tourist, or those in transit vis-a-vis Princess Hijab's tagging? I want to suggest that the viewer’s participation arises in the act of remembering when inhabiting the position of the commuter-as-viewer.

Memory, writes Jose Esteban Muñoz, “is most certainly constructed, and, more important, always political” [6].  For the hijabizing ads, memory and the site-specificity of seeing and recalling the ads is critical. The very circulation of identity-forming cultural souvenirs of place/identity, when carried from one place to another, enact the visual processes through which the global and local become inseparably one and the same. Princess Hijab’s work, loaded with cultural memory attached to the discourse of the veil as well as the urban underbelly of Paris, underscores the political realm of memory and its articulation through tourism and viewers rendered commuters by way of the culture of images.

Only the commuter-as-viewer retains knowledge of the images once they have been “corrected,” i.e. wiped away by the State. The side-by-side comparison only exists within the mind (or digital, unmoored space of the internet, where we, as readers and viewers, see the documentation and take on the position of commuters).


In effect, no one component of Princess Hijab’s work can be privileged over the other, as each contributes to the overall memory of the work: The urban frame, the malleable hijab, its capacity for both obscuring and marking queerness, and the viewers as commuters/tourists. All are crucial factors in the performance of globalization as it functions on shifting local and global scales of recognition (Princess Hijab's tags' potential object lesson).

It is therefore significant that the Princess’s graffiti writing does not appear on or in the train, the vehicle of travel, but that it stays on the platform, the very precipice between fast-moving experiences and slow, waiting, coming and going, the space of surveillance and ambivalence. What seems most important, however, as we continue to unpack the gestures, is greater consideration of the Princess’s dependence on the commuter’s agency to react and remember; this relationship not only points to, but calls for the investment of artists and viewers in spatial practices that engage with commodity capitalism, the dressing of social bodies, colonial globalization, and the liminal spaces of cultural memory that each articulates.

Briefly, Griselda Pollock’s words offer a productive frame with which continue the conversation opened by Princess Hijab's critique of (and complicity within) processes of globalization, queering, and commodity culture. Pollock writes of the work to be done: “The game is not to strip away the veil and expose the truth—it is to know what masks we wear, to define the texts we perform and to accept the necessity for critical knowledge at the condition for new pleasures, a new language of desire” [7].  Princess Hijab’s paradoxical amalgamation of hyper-visibility and invisibility, within her queering of the veil, and its implications for viewers, offers an alternative mode of entry into a new, highly complex and layered language of desire, one that savvy visual culture readers may interpret in order to better understand the processes through which a range of identity positions, anxieties and investments are mediated and maintained.


[1] Marina Myhre and Fabien Rosso, "Designing for Security in Météor: A Projected New Métro Line in Paris," Crime Prevention Studies special issue: Preventing Mass Transit Crime, v. 6 (1996): 199-216.

[2] Rosalyn Deutsche, "Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City," October v. 47 (Winter 1988): 6.

[3] Ibrahim Abraham, "The Veil and the Closet: Islam and the Production of Queer Space," Queer Space: Centres and Peripheries UTS 2007, p.2.

[4]. Abraham, 4.

[5] Myhre and Rosso, 210.

[6] Jose Esteban Muñoz. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 35.

[7] Griselda Pollock, “Veils, Mask and Mirrors,” cited in Tabrizian, Correct Distance, n.p.