Emma DiMarco/BFA.com

How One Artist Turned a Highbrow Meme Account Into a Collaboration With Young Thug

By the power of Instagram, Hajar Benjida's school project became a major international art fair exhibition

By Rae Witte

The “get you a man who can do both” meme originated from a 2016 Valentine’s Day tweet featuring two images of Drake: one of him in a suit and one in a bomber jacket and cap. Nearly three years later, it lives on as a sentiment of appreciation for individuals capable of juxtaposing achievements as minor as looking good both dressed down and formally and as interesting as being well-versed in fine art and all things Young Thug.

Hajar Benjida, a 23-year-old photography student, is the latter. As the brainchild behind the Instagram account Young Thug As Paintings, Benjida aligns modern photos of Thugger with paintings from as early as the 1500s where the subjects embody a strikingly similar mood, body position, and/or facial expression. The bio reads, “This is literally my school project.”

“At first, it was just a school project and only your teachers see it. Then you only know their opinions. Why would I wanted to be limited by their opinions only or just my family or my friends?” Benjida told MTV News. It makes perfect sense. While her teachers may be well-versed on the art featured within the project, do they really understand the essence of Jeffrey Williams, the artist known as Young Thug? Would her friends and family understand or appreciate the depth of knowledge she has on art and how it miraculously compliments her cognition of all things Thugger? By sharing the project online, she could reach audiences with an appreciation for each individually and touch those that similarly may be invested in both.

“Metro Boomin was an early fan of the account when it had like 80 followers. I remember him saying, ‘You deserve a lot of followers. This is amazing.’ Within like four weeks it went viral,” she said.

These aren’t your mainstream Mona Lisas that any art novice might know. A photo of Thug on his phone in a red jacket, riding pants and boots is nearly identical to a Francis Wheatley painting of Lord Spencer Hamlet from 1778. The Beautiful Thugger Girls album artwork practically mirrors Rosso Fiorentino’s Musical Angel from 1522, and a close up of a side glance embodies the same feeling as Pietro Rotari’s A Girl With A Flower In Her Hair (1760-1762).

Started in February 2016 (a good year and month for memes, clearly), the account has seen the growth Metro thought it deserved. At 79 posts, Young Thug As Paintings has amassed more than 64,100 followers. She’s been able to meet Metro Boomin, and even better, she’s been able to meet and collaborate with Young Thug.

“I also put it online because I did want to work with Thug but in a creative way. Not like ‘Oh, I want to shoot with you,’” Benjida said. “I don’t like to tell people I want to work with you. I want to prove and show, and maybe it’ll open other doors and other opportunities.”

As Benjida told, that it did. “In late September, I put up an IG story that I wanted to do something during Miami Art Week. I noticed Young Thug saw the story and he followed the account. He never liked anything on it, but I saw it as a yes. Why else would he follow?”

She’d wanted to do something with the project, but it needed to be the right fit. “I was in Atlanta and wanted to do a pop-up or something like that but I preferred to be in an art fair. Everyone can rent out a store and put something on,” she said.

The same Instagram story also led a production company to Benjida. Together they put together a proposal to take to Young Thug’s label, 300 Entertainment. “I sent it to Rayna [Bass] from 300 who I was already in touch with for something else. She said it was amazing.” It was time to take the school project-gone-highbrow meme account to the art world. “We tried some art fairs and SCOPE was interested. There was another one, but they said I needed a curator to write about it for it to in the fair. I didn’t like that. Why would my artist statement not be enough? This was my first exhibition.”

Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

With three weeks to prepare (and impending school work toward the close of the semester), Benjida got to work. Truthfully, a perfect fit, SCOPE Art Fair is held three times annually in Miami, New York and Basel, Switzerland and focuses on up and coming galleries and emerging artists. They usually have around 60 to 100 exhibitors per show. The final product allowed fair attendees to not only touch the art but to take it as well. The coinciding images were printed on transparent paper so the similarities could be seen as the images were laid on top of each other.

“Everything at SCOPE was for sale and also SCOPE is the highest selling art fair in Miami, so for us to give away free prints, I feel like it was a statement,” she said. “It was exciting to be around other artists and their work. I went to all the booths and looked around. It was also a very different and diverse crowd. There was this really old lady, like in her 70s, that asked, ‘Is this the Young Thug as paintings exhibit? I’ve read about it.’ I wish someone caught it on camera because I was in shock she just came in the booth and said that!”

Recalling when Thug saw the finished product, Benjida shares, “The first thing he said was, ‘Thank you so much for this.’’” Like the rest of us, he also asked how she knew about all the art in the show and on the account, adding that his photo side-by-side with a painted likeness of Andres Zorn’s 1887 painting Man and boy in Algiers was his favorite post.

By the power of Instagram, Benjida collaborated with one of her favorite artists and did her first art exhibition at a major international art fair. “Even Young Thug said, ‘I learned a lot about art because of this project.’ He said he would just search the artists or the paintings. He would search the original artist. He was very impressed with how much he learned. There were also other people would hit me up and said they were not into art like that, but by putting it next to Young Thug, it made it more accessible.”