There's an art to constructing celebrity, and no one paints a more consistently unpredictable picture than the 25-year-old Atlanta rapper Young Thug. (For example, he recently deleted all of his personal Instagram photos and started over.) Never one for interviews, he feels no need to explain himself—his music and his unique sense of style speak for themselves—which is why he's one of the most absorbing personalities to follow in music right now. So much so, that his complete failure to show up for his recent "Wyclef Jean" music video shoot was enough to garner it over 20 million views.
Thug's influence, unsurprisingly, has made it all the way to the Netherlands, where a young photography student named Hajar Benjida, 22, started an Instagram account last year called @YoungThugAsPaintings, which makes uncanny parallels between the rapper and iconic Old Master paintings like Vermeer's Girl with the Pearl Earring (except Thug's is a diamond).
The account now boasts over 25,000 followers, with the super-producer Metro Boomin being an early fan and Thug himself blessing it with a retweet and an Instagram follow. Even if, as its bio explains, @YoungThugAsPaintings is "literally" Benjida's school project.
Currently a student at Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht (H.K.U), Benjida took a banal archival image assignment and turned it into a viral sensation. In her spare time, she's also a budding backstage music photographer, and has shot everyone from Lil Yachty to Rae Sremmurd as they've toured through Amsterdam. Her undying obsession, though, is with Young Thug, whom she's dedicated to inserting into the art-historical canon.
What inspired you to start this account?
I wanted to see how people outside my class and my own environment would react to the comparisons, so I decided to create an Instagram account for my school project. And with social media, the world becomes a lot smaller.
What class is this project for? What was the assignment?
Not for art history. This class was actually photography-related. But we didn't necessarily have to take photos—we were allowed to use archival material. We had to go to a museum and be inspired by someone's way of working. I drew inspiration from this artist who analyzed thousands of selfies of other people, and based on that, he made the ultimate guide to the perfect selfie. I wasn't really a big fan of his work, but the way he analyzed photos is similar to the way I work. I had so many photos of Young Thug on my phone, I just looked through them and found some combinations. That's how I started.
How has your professor responded?
The teacher for this class was actually very supportive from the beginning. Not all the teachers were big fans, though. That was also one of the reasons why I wanted to post it on Instagram; I didn't want to be limited by my teachers' opinions only.
Do you have a goal or future plan for the account, or is it just for fun?
Hopefully I get a chance to present my work at a gallery or museum. It would be a shame if it only existed on social media. Let's expose it to rich, middle-aged people. It's art, so therefore I don't see why it wouldn't be possible.
Greatest hits (so far):
The last video I posted on my Instagram went crazy viral. I saw a Facebook page posting it that video alone got over 1 million views and even Young Thug himself retweeted it on Twitter.
What do you think these side-by-side comparisons reveal, if anything?
Thug's image next to classical paintings is like a version of a William-Adolphe Bouguereau painting that never existed in European art history.
How do you go about finding the paintings you use for comparisons?
It's a combination of a lot of research on the internet, my own knowledge, and visits to museums. I don't look at a particular period or artist, but I do prefer certain styles. Sometimes I see a photo of Young Thug and I can immediately link it to a painting in my head, and sometimes it's the other way around.
Why do you think Young Thug lends himself so well to paintings?
The most amazing thing is that he doesn't even try.
What do you like about Young Thug's Instagram? Do you have any personal favorite posts?
Sadly, he deleted all of his Instagram posts recently. But I always enjoyed his weirdly-angled outfit pictures, with his furry boots [Ed. note: Uggs] and chains. His style is impeccable, as he's described it himself.
Favorite Young Thug song:
If you ever met Young Thug, what would you tell him?
"I'm @youngthugaspaintings." Actually, I already told him that.
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