Meryem Slimani photographs her muse in rich saturation, always the brilliant center of the composition. In each portrait, her subject blossoms into the rest of the image, filling it with colour and pattern. It is Najate Leklye seen through the eyes of her daughter, whose work is characterised by the intimacy of their relationship.
Meryem’s work started as a way to pass the time. She started a blog and an Instagram account, navigating the online landscapes of body positivity and streetwear. Initially, Najate would feature as a cameo in Meryem’s photographs, in bright colours and patterns they complemented each other. They would set up the self-timer on Meryem’s phone, propped up against her books on the balcony or in her mother’s backyard. Najate quikly took center stage, styled, directed and photographed by her daughter. “I love the visibility of my mother as an older woman and a visibly muslim woman, she deals with entirely different things than we do as younger women of colour,” Meryem explains about her decision to continue photographing her mother.
Every portrait starts as a puzzle in her head: the first piece can be anything from a sweater to a feeling. Meryem sources from her closet, her mother’s closet or her husband’s closet, then roams the market to find the matching textiles with which the styling comes to life. She calls her mother’s closet a vintage treasure chest full of clothes saved from the eighties and nineties, including traditional garments from Morocco. This, combined with the streetwear that defines Dutch urban culture, are the cornerstones of Meryem’s styling. There are some favourite pieces in which the two worlds have crossed over, such as the Nike hijab or a Daily Paper sweater with a rich red and green colour block. Brands like the latter symbolize a story close to Meryem’s heart: “They were started by people of colour that want to walk their own path. It’s not just beautiful, it’s also the creating of space. People who stay true to where they come from – don’t hide, express yourself. And if people don’t think it’s cool, it’s not for them.”
By creating space for both herself and her mother, Meryem has translated their story into one that speaks to many. There is a universality in what is so intimate to them: life in a big city, life between different cultures, the balance of generational difference, and the love between a mother and her daughter.