Viral Instagram account @youngthugaspaintings is exactly what it says it is: comparisons of Young Thug with classical paintings. Netherlands-based photographer Hajar Benjida started the account as a school project, but it has since blown up into something more.
Now, having gone viral online, Benjida is bringing her love of Young Thug offline, exhibiting as part of SCOPE’s Miami Beach installation at Miami Art Week. The exhibition, which according to the blurb, “pays homage to the cultural capital of Thug,” is even sponsored by Thugger’s label Young Stoner Life Records and 300 Entertainment.
Benjida is still a full-time photography student, and as well as managing her studies (and the Thug Instagram account), she’s been making her name as a backstage photographer. Her personal Instagram shows a who’s who of contemporary hip-hop. To date, she’s shot the likes of Migos, Cardi B, Playboi Carti, Mac Miller, and 21 Savage, as well as rising stars including Kodie Shane, Gunna, and Juice WRLD.
Ahead of her Miami Art Week exhibition, which opens today, we caught up with Benjida via email to discuss Young Thug’s qualities as an artistic subject, Metro Boomin becoming a fan of her work, and how she went from Instagram posts to exhibiting at one of the biggest art events in the world.
Why did you start the account?
It was a last-minute school project idea in my first year. I actually had no idea what to do for this assignment until I came up with this the night before class and presented my idea in a keynote the next morning.
We had to go to a museum and be inspired by someone’s way of working. I drew inspiration from this artist who researched thousands of selfies of other people. And based on that, he made the ultimate guide to the perfect selfie.
I did the same thing with Thug’s photos and started seeing resemblances between his photos and historical art. I had so many photos of Young Thug on my phone and also based off his Instagram, so I just looked through them all and found some combinations.
Why Young Thug as opposed to another artist? Does he have a particular quality about him?
I think it says a lot how this account was mostly received as a meme on the internet. Have you ever seen a meme relevant for more than one and a half weeks? Because Young Thug is the muse for this project, it managed to stay relevant for almost three years. I think it’s accessible for anyone and he makes the project timeless.
How do you find the images?
Scrolling through art blogs and a good memory. Sometimes I’ll see a painting and it reminds me of a photo Thug posted on his Instagram, so I put them together and see if it works. Sometimes it’s the other way around: I’ll see a photo of him and connect it to a painting right away — that’s how I actually started out.
Young Thug’s label has partnered with you for the Miami show, but has Thugger himself said anything about the account?
He shares his thoughts by liking some photos on my Instagram and following and unfollowing it every once in a while. At this very moment, as I’m typing this — it might change any moment — he’s only following the @youngthugaspaintings page and his dog Ms. Tootie. But I know he loves it — he’s a Leo king.
Tell me about the exhibition in Miami. What will you be showing?
It will be like a sample of my work, mostly for people who aren’t familiar with my project. There’s going to be a lot of booths there, so not anything too crazy. I want it to be taken seriously and not for it to be like a fan booth for Thug. And it’s also for followers of the account. I’ve been wanting to bring it to real life for a long time.
In a previous interview, you were asked about your goal for the account and said it was to exhibit it in a gallery and “expose it to rich, middle-aged people.” How does it feel now you’ve reached that goal?
I honestly forgot I ever said this, but just remembered it. That’s cool. I’m more excited about the fact Young Thug teamed up with me for this. That’s honestly crazy. I feel like Miami Art Week is really the perfect timing and it’s bigger than just renting out a store for a pop-up. We’re really bringing this to an actual art fair.
Can you tell me a little bit about your photography? How did you start?
It started naturally when I had to put together a portfolio to apply for art school. I honestly never thought I would end up being a photographer. It’s kinda scary because you’re like the final touch on everything.
And how do you get access to such huge stars?
I’m going to have to say patience, a lot of it. It doesn’t just happen overnight. What I’ve been trying to do to get access the past few years is really avoiding the middleman and going straight to the artist. And yes, without wristbands or backstage passes, I managed to get this access. Just talk your way backstage — you have nothing to lose.
Finally, I read that you’ve become friends with Metro Boomin through @youngthugaspaintings. Can you tell me a little about that?
I wouldn’t necessarily throw “friends,” but he’s always been amazing to me. He was literally one of the first followers of the account and we stayed connected because of that. When I met him for the first time, I remember him saying this account deserves more followers, and then a few weeks later it actually blew up.
“Young Thug as Paintings” runs from December 4 until December 9 at SCOPE Miami Beach’s installation. Get more info here.
In other design news, here’s what you absolutely can’t miss at Art Basel Miami Beach and Art Week 2018.