The omnipresence of flashy colours, kitsch prints and cans lined up in Hassan Hajjaj’s photos earned him the following nickname of « the master of Moroccan pop art ». Settled in London since the seventies, the artist is influenced both by his North African heritage and the underground culture of the English capital. His artistic universe builds bridges between both cultures which are dear to him.
Photographer but also designer and fashion designer, Hassan Hajjaj advocates for a permanent invitation to world openness, to multiculturalism and happiness as well. Whether through his photographs, his clothes, or his furniture, he mixes all the visual elements from his double heritage, and raises the question of plural identities and cultural hybridity, far from predefined labels.
Although he is considered today as one of the major figures of Moroccan contemporary art, exhibiting all over the world and collaborating with many important personalities, Hassan Hajjaj is “an artist who makes chic from cheap”, an Andy “Wahloo”- which means “I have nothing” in Arabic, a nickname given by the singer Rachid Taha. This nickname is also appreciated and claimed by the nonconformist artist, who mainly works with recovered objects and strangers encountered in the street.
A SELF-TAUGHT & COSMOPOLITAN ARTIST
Born in 1961 in Larache, a Moroccan town in the region of Tangiers-Tetouan, Hassan Hajjaj was still a teenager when he left in 1973 to settle with his family in Islington, a district in North London. Arriving in this new country was not easy for the young Moroccan who, uprooted, was then confronted with culture shock, poverty and inequality.
He quickly dropped out of school, and it was in the street that his first contacts with art were made, as he discovered street art, tag and more broadly the hip-hop and reggae cultures which are very present in the British cosmopolitan capital.
London at that time was a real cultural melting pot where Brazilians, Caribbeans, Hindus rubbed shoulders… it gave an incredible mix of bossa nova, samba, reggae…Hassan Hajjaj
It was during the 80’s that Hassan began to take photographs to document this effervescence, and at the same time worked in the alternative fashion world. In 1984, he founded R.A.P. – an acronym for « Real Artistic People », a personalized clothing shop – and already showed his taste for ethnic influences, the fake logos of major brands that he hijacks and everyday objects that he recycles.
Now working between London and Marrakech, Hassan Hajjaj undertakes to photograph his world to, as he points out, “share something cool from [his] culture while showing that even though we have different cultures and religions, we share a lot as people.”
HUMOUR, COMMITMENT & INFLUENCES
Humour is one of the essential characteristics of the work of Hassan Hajjaj, who makes fun of clichés about his country and hijacks the major Western brands. Thus, playing on the exoticism and clichés associated with Morocco by Westerners, he shows us models posing in djellabas, Louis Vuitton hidjabs and Nike slippers, all framed by sodas and jars of harissa.However, behind this playful universe, it is actually about sharing his critical and uninhibited point of view on the consumer society, while addressing the questions of traditions, wearing a hijab, and the clichés present around Moroccan society.
It was in London that I learned how to get around clichés, even to embrace them, to integrate them into my art in order to make them lie better.Hassan Hajjaj
One of his most emblematic photographic series is “Kesh Angels”, whose title is inspired by the Hells Angels gangs, and Kesh being the diminutive of Marrakech. It shows veiled bikers, thus diverting the stereotype of the oriental woman. These low-angle shots show imposing women, dressed in traditional clothing, posing triumphantly and proudly on their motorbikes, staring straight at the lens.
I understand that it can be disturbing that some of the women I photograph are veiled, but look how modern and provocative they are! They mix tradition and pop fashion; I find them to be incredibly strong and powerful, absolutely beautiful.Hassan Hajjaj
In addition, Hassan Hajjaj’s photographs with their geometric patterns and movement play bear the heritage of the Malian masters of photography. Portraitists Malik Sidibé and Seydou Keita, with their famous black and white studio photographs, presented the pop culture and the youth of their countries, which were undergoing major changes in the 1960s. Like them, Hassan documents but also seeks to show another facet of his country, Morocco.
AN INFINITE ECLECTICISM
In 2019 the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (the European House of Photography) in Paris has honored the Anglo-Morroccan artist by introducing the first retrospective in France of the artist, with more than three hundred of photos but also videos, artistic installation, clothes and derived objects.
As an eclectic artist, Hassan Hajjaj also directed in 2015 a feature-length documentary film, entitled “Karima: a day in the life of a Henna Girl” which has been premiered in Los Angeles.
As a designer, he was also asked to decorate a Parisian bar located in the Marais neighborhood, which bears his nickname “Andy Wahloo”, a way of immersing even more in his colorful and sunny universe which makes him one of the pioneers of pop art in Morocco.
OUR SELECTION OF PHOTOGRAPHS