Characterised by their bold colours and patterns, Hassan Hajjaj's photographs feature sitters in distinct poses. With bases in Marrakech and London, Hajjaj brings together a range of elements—traditional Moroccan fabrics and motifs, inexpensive materials from local markets, and counterfeit brand logos—to offer joyous and sincere portrayals of Moroccan culture and consider the significance of embracing diverse cultural influences.Read More
Born in the fishing village of Larache, Morocco, Hajjaj moved to the United Kingdom with his family when he was 12. Coming of age in London in the 1970s and 1980s, the artist worked in fashion, interior design, and clubs, launching his own streetwear label R.A.P in 1984 before such brands became mainstream.
Hajjaj began to show his photographs seriously in the 1990s after a visit to Morocco. In an interview with Vogue in 2020, the artist recalled feeling that Morocco was seen as an exotic backdrop and portrayed without the culture's full vibrancy. In his resultant 'The Arab issue' series, women pose like fashion magazine models while wearing kaftans and jellabiyas that Hassan designed in the polka dots, camouflage, and animal prints that were fashionable at the time.
Hajjaj mounts his photographs in customised frames that are contemporary reinterpretations of traditional Moroccan mosaic and tile motifs. The frames are made out of commercial products including Coca-Cola cans, tires, and cans of food. His use of these materials has attracted comparisons with the Pop art aesthetic of Andy Warhol, while his patterned backdrops acknowledge the work of African photographers like Seydou Keïta, Sanlé Sory, and Malick Sidibé.
Many of Hajjaj's subjects are his close friends and long-time acquaintances, notably Karima, who is a henna artist active in Marrakech and whom he has photographed since 1998. In 'Kesh Angels' (2010), one of his most well-known works, Karima and her friends pose on their motorbikes—the city of Marrakech is known for its biker population—from a lower angle, emphasising their ease and confidence.
Hajjaj worked again with Karima in the film Karima: A Day In The Life Of A Henna Girl, which was first screened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2015. The work, set in the Jemaa el-Fnaa marketplace in Marrakech, follows Karima throughout her day. Speaking to Art Radarin 2015, Hajjaj said that he featured her in the film to show that despite the assumptions his photographs are vessels for larger political concepts, the people have always been his focus.
Hajjaj's emphasis on his subjects can also be seen in 'My Rock Stars' (2011—ongoing), which consists of portraits of his idols. These include both his friends and well-known figures—the French photographer JR, the late Algerian musician Rachid Taha, and the American artist Hank Willis Thomas, among others—all of whom are portrayed with the same integrity.
VOGUE, The Arab Issue, Fotografiska, Stockholm (2020); Carte Blanche a Hassan Hajjaj, Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris (2019); The Path, New Art Exchange, Nottingham (2019); Noss Noss, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2017); La Caravane, Somerset House, London (2017); La Salle de Gym des Femmes Arabes, Al Riwaq Art Space, Adliya, Bahrain (2017).
GET UP, STAND UP NOW: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers, Somerset House, London (2019); Material Insanity, Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden, Marrakech (2019); A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, New Orleans Museum of Art (2018); African Metropolis. An imaginary city, Maxxi Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo, Rome (2018).
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020