Hassan Hajjaj's Empowering Pop-Art


For over 20 years, Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj has dedicated his life’s work to depicting Arab women and men, many of whom are his own friends. And most of the time, the international artists and musicians depicted in his artworks, such as rapper Cardi B, singers Rachid Taha and Keziah Jones, as well fashion designer Amine Bendriouich, amongst others, are featured in a controversial, pop-art influenced way.

An exhibit of his work is currently on display at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) in Paris. With “Carte Blanche to Hassan Hajjaj,” the artist redefines the visual impressions that stayed with him from childhood. “I especially love Morocco's light and colors. I love all colors, but especially when the colors are mish-mashed: I've learned not to be scared of mixing everything together,” he mused at the opening of his show. Hajjaj uses kitsch elements like oriental food cans, Fez hats, camel pics, Coca- Cola ads, and images of counterfeit luxury goods found in the medina of Marrakech to adorn his photos. Overall, Hajjaj creates a visual celebration of Arabness. At the same time, his creative process deconstructs the Occidental stereotypes of North Africa by offering a visual narrative of contemporary Arab culture.

And today, contemporary Arab culture is the subject of hot debate in France and beyond. As the French intelligentsia continues to advocate the principle of secularism, and constantly questions – and criticizes – the representation of women and femininity within the Muslim population in France, Hajjaj’s exhibition can be viewed as a liberating tribute to the Arab woman. An ode to Maghrebian femininity, which, thanks to this exhibition, can finally express itself freely within the French capital. Women of Arab origin photographed by an artist of Arab origin is a subtle way of denouncing French society’s judgmental look at Arab femininity. 

“I wanted to show the world what I saw of the country and its people, the energy, the attitude; the inventiveness and glamour of street fashion; the fantastic graphics of everyday objects and products; people’s happy outlooks and strength of character,” he added. Overall, his aesthetic celebrates the mix of traditional garments and the contemporary elements of North Africa. At the same time, his work empowers Arab women by creating a visual parody of people’s interpretations of Arab femininity, whilst highlighting the strengths of female Arab culture and the contradictions around it.

In this context, his artwork references – with a good dose of irony – the regular fashion shoots that take place for glossy magazines in the medina of Marrakesh and Casablanca. However, instead of the Caucasian models who are usually photographed for such editorial shootings, Hassan Hajjaj presents a series of portraits of Moroccan women from the medina, wearing his own designs, which are most often influenced by traditional Moroccan clothing and twisted in a contemporary way. His so-called “Kesh Angels,” an ongoing photographic project which involves Arab girls riding motorbikes, made a particularly strong impression. “It's about veiled girls on bikes,” Hajjaj continued, conscious of the empowering undertone that is implied by such an art piece. “Kesh is short for Marrakesh, and Angels is obviously a wordplay on Hell’s Angels,” he explained with a cheeky smile on his face.

The portion of the exhibition dedicated to Hajjaj’s fashion design features gender-bending, handmade, and unique pieces that are co-created with artisans from Marrakech’s medina, using up-cycled materials. However, it has to be noted that Hajjaj is not a newbie to up-cycling – nor has he just jumped on the bandwagon of the sustainable trend. In fact, his willingness to explore traditional materials, which he up-cycles with a contemporary twist, goes back to the early 80s when he created his fashion label, R.A.P. This label features customized creations that weave together Moroccan influences and other music and fashion-related inspirations that Hajjaj has encountered along the way. Music is very dear to Hajjaj. One of his video projects features selected performances by artists such as London-based Moroccan musician Simo Lagnawi, a Gnawa performer (editor's note: Gnawa is traditional form of African-Islamic spiritual music). “Music is also very important to me, and I listen to it while I work. Maybe you can tell – the images and the frames have a kind of rhythm,” concluded the artist. And indeed, his unique sense of beauty and rhythm can be felt throughout the entire exhibition – an exhibition that is not to be missed.



Hassan Hajjaj currently lives and works between London and Marrakech. His photography and video work are featured in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the LACMA in Los Angeles, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the MAXXI in Rome, and the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, amongst other prestigious institutions. He has had solo exhibitions at the Rose Issa Projects gallery in London, the Taymour Grahne gallery in New York, The Third Line Gallery in Dubai, as well as the ARIA Art Gallery in Florence as part of the Middle East Now Film Festival. His current retrospective at the MEP in Paris is on until November 17th.

SHARE
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
SIMILAR ARTICLES
How to Lose Followers
By Aarushi Saxena
Disingenuous endorsements is the number one reason why individuals unfollow influencers,...
By Aarushi Saxena
By Aarushi Saxena
Disingenuous endorsements is the number one reason why individuals unfollow influencers, according to Instagram creative firm Takumi and a study released last week by Marketing Charts, a hub for data, graphics, and research analysis. Based on a survey of 2,251 representatives in the UK, the US,...
Disingenuous endorsements is the number one reason why individuals unfollow influencers, according to Instagram creative firm Takumi and a study released last week by Marketing Charts, a hub for data, graphics, and research analysis. Based on a survey of 2,251 representatives in the UK, the US, and Germany, a significant crowd of 16- to 24-year-old consumers credit influencers for their “trendy...
The Kimono Reinvented
By Elisabeta Tudor
The kimono has always been an object of fascination. Even in Japan, where it is considered an...
By Elisabeta Tudor
By Elisabeta Tudor
The kimono has always been an object of fascination. Even in Japan, where it is considered an intangible cultural treasure, designers can’t help but put their hands on it to reinvent it and challenge traditional perception.Yoshiki Hayashi, an influential composer and musician-turned-designer, did...
The kimono has always been an object of fascination. Even in Japan, where it is considered an intangible cultural treasure, designers can’t help but put their hands on it to reinvent it and challenge traditional perception.Yoshiki Hayashi, an influential composer and musician-turned-designer, did just that during the latest week of runway shows in Tokyo. As of today, the best-selling artist –...
The Forgotten Side of Fashion
By Frédéric Martin-Bernard
In our current times that are defined by social media and selfies, it is not uncommon for fashion...
By Frédéric Martin-Bernard
By Frédéric Martin-Bernard
In our current times that are defined by social media and selfies, it is not uncommon for fashion designers to solely focus on the front sides of the garments they design. Is this a reflection of our current digitally-obsessed era, or does this tendency reveal a decline of true craftsmanship?The...
In our current times that are defined by social media and selfies, it is not uncommon for fashion designers to solely focus on the front sides of the garments they design. Is this a reflection of our current digitally-obsessed era, or does this tendency reveal a decline of true craftsmanship?The contrast was striking. On September 25th, Anrealage’s Creative Director Kunihiko Morinaga chose to...
Chloé and UNICEF to Empower Young Women
By NOWFASHION
The French luxury Maison under the creative direction of Natacha Ramsay-Levi and UNICEF just...
By NOWFASHION
The French luxury Maison under the creative direction of Natacha Ramsay-Levi and UNICEF just announced a new 3-year global partnership to advance gender equality through innovative tech solutions developed with and for adolescent girls.The partnership will include support to flagship UNICEF...
The French luxury Maison under the creative direction of Natacha Ramsay-Levi and UNICEF just announced a new 3-year global partnership to advance gender equality through innovative tech solutions developed with and for adolescent girls.The partnership will include support to flagship UNICEF programming models that equip adolescent girls and young women from Bolivia, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal,...
The Show Goes on in São Paulo
By Jorge Grimberg
“Brazilian creatives have gone through a whirlwind following the dramatic political scandals of...
By Jorge Grimberg
By Jorge Grimberg
“Brazilian creatives have gone through a whirlwind following the dramatic political scandals of the past few years and throughout this scenario, SPFW has become a tool to keep the system alive,” said Paulo Borges, the CEO and founder of São Paulo Fashion Week, which will close its 48th edition on...
“Brazilian creatives have gone through a whirlwind following the dramatic political scandals of the past few years and throughout this scenario, SPFW has become a tool to keep the system alive,” said Paulo Borges, the CEO and founder of São Paulo Fashion Week, which will close its 48th edition on Friday. A visionary ahead of his time, Borges started São Paulo Fashion Week 24 years ago. The...
Shanghai: Tech and Tribal Culture
By Jing Zhang
In a swish of Balenciaga jumpers, Gucci tees, and doll-like Chinese KOLs live streaming to their...
By Jing Zhang
In a swish of Balenciaga jumpers, Gucci tees, and doll-like Chinese KOLs live streaming to their fans on their phones, Shanghai Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 is coming to a close. It was a week of sunshine, rainstorms, and blustering winds, as buyers, media, and fashionistas traversed between...
In a swish of Balenciaga jumpers, Gucci tees, and doll-like Chinese KOLs live streaming to their fans on their phones, Shanghai Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020 is coming to a close. It was a week of sunshine, rainstorms, and blustering winds, as buyers, media, and fashionistas traversed between Xintiandi (home to shows on the main official schedule) and the Labelhood runway platform – this time...
How Shanghai Could Change Fashion
By Gianluca Cantaro
When you are in Shanghai, the only thing you need to worry about is always keeping your phone...
By Gianluca Cantaro
By Gianluca Cantaro
When you are in Shanghai, the only thing you need to worry about is always keeping your phone charged and connected – as everything passes through these devices, and without it you are lost. Cash no longer circulates; the QR code pays everything. This, of course, offers more control on...
When you are in Shanghai, the only thing you need to worry about is always keeping your phone charged and connected – as everything passes through these devices, and without it you are lost. Cash no longer circulates; the QR code pays everything. This, of course, offers more control on transactions and, I guess, fewer tax evasion problems (at least for shopping). This is one aspect of the...
Lindbergh Film to Premiere in Milan
By Sofia Celeste
Milan’s Fashion Film Festival will unveil “Peter Lindbergh: Women’s Stories” at Milan’s Anteo...
By Sofia Celeste
Milan’s Fashion Film Festival will unveil “Peter Lindbergh: Women’s Stories” at Milan’s Anteo Cinema on November 10th.“Engaging and intimate, this film depicts the German photographer and features Naomi Campbell, [his wife] Astrid Lindbergh, and Helga Polzin,” organizers said Tuesday.The...
Milan’s Fashion Film Festival will unveil “Peter Lindbergh: Women’s Stories” at Milan’s Anteo Cinema on November 10th.“Engaging and intimate, this film depicts the German photographer and features Naomi Campbell, [his wife] Astrid Lindbergh, and Helga Polzin,” organizers said Tuesday.The Lindbergh documentary was directed by Jean-Michel Vecchiet, who also depicted the life of Jean-Michel...