Hassan Hajjaj, artistic jack-of-all-trades from Morocco

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Ilham © Hassan Hajjaj

A book that focuses on photography, fashion, movie and design? Seemed to be a great idea in the eyes of Hassan Hajjaj, a renowned artist based in both Marrakech and London. How should we describe this man? As a photographer? An interior designer? Musician? Fashion designer? Each title fails to do justice to his talents, because all of these art forms are intertwined in one person. And for the first time we get an overview of all his works: may I introduce the book “By Hassan Hajjaj: Photography, Fashion, Film, Design”.

The story behind the art

The first thing that strikes me when I take a look at the book, are the stunning colours. About one hundred photographs radiate a certain cheerfulness and create an atmosphere that reminds me of Andy Warhol’s pop art. Yet Hassan follows his own unique path with his art. The book takes us along on a journey through his life. We get to know everything that inspires him: the streets of Morocco, the reggae and hip hop scene in London, beautifully veiled women, colourful merchandise in little shops, close friends, but also unexpected encounters with the henna girl, the male belly dancer, the traditional Moroccan musician.

What is the story behind this spontaneous colour explosion and mix of oriental and western influences? Hassan’s creativity stems from his childhood: he was born in 1961 in the harbour town of Larache, Morocco and grew up in a loving but poor family. When he was a little boy, he strolled along the beaches of Morocco, while searching. Searching for a sock, a bottle, a plastic bag,… Often he was astonished by the great deal of useful stuff washed ashore. Things ideally suited to fabricate his own toys. His inventiveness and unconstrained adoration for the world constituted the ideal base for his future career.

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Marques Toliver © Hassan Hajjaj

Creativity always finds its way

In 1975, the Hajjaj family moved to London, a new job opportunity for Hassan’s father but a drastic adjustment for Hassan himself. He missed the freedom which he had always felt in Larache, and the dreary looking new city surrounding him put a damper on his mood. But already in those days Hassan was marked by a positive character, and he decided to take a positive approach to life in London.

Education did not offer him any inspiration. It was only when he quit school at the age of 15 that he could finally realize his potentials. Music and fashion were his first great passions. Hassan promoted local music bands and organised concerts in various clubs in London. He also opened an urban fashion store, in which outfits designed by some of his friends filled the racks.

The year 1989 was a milestone in his life, because this was the first time he got hold of a camera and discovered the art of photography and gained experience by experimenting with fashion photography in his clothes shop. Hassan also started to design his own outfits. The fact that he had no education never stood in the way of his artistic creativity. On the contrary, this made his art develop into a spontaneous expression of what he felt in heart and soul.

One of his most famous art works is the interior design of a new and fancy bar in Paris: Andy Wahloo. The name refers to Andy Warhol and alludes to the Moroccan Arabic for “I got nothing”. The furniture is made out of recycled objects, a skill which Hassan already mastered in his childhood. For example, he constructed the chairs from drink crates and turned aluminium cans into lamps. Hassan Hajjaj the designer, yet another talent.

Exhibitions worldwide

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The Rose Issa Projects Gallery in London will launch Hassan’s book on March 13, 2014. In addition, various projects of Hassan’s are to be admired across the ocean. In California, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) exhibits the video installation “My Rock Stars, Volume 1”. Nine musicians are depicted, dressed in funky outfits designed by Hassan. The exuberant, colourful background patterns create a unique universe of tradition, modernity, music and fashion.

But Hassan wants to put even more persons in the spotlights, so we encounter the “My Rock Stars, Volume 2” exhibition in the Gusford Gallery, Los Angeles. Hassan portrays different individuals as rock stars and creates a new identity for them by means of a shiny outfit, props, and yes, even the framework. We discover original picture frames: Coke cans, Fanta bottles, canned food and even matchboxes. All these objects were found in Moroccan market stalls. The link with the Arab world is never far away, yet the pictures exude an international feel.

Last but not least there’s the photo project “’Kesh Angels” in the Taymour Grahne Gallery in New York. The name is a reference to the Hell’s Angels, but these pictures were taken in Marrakech, and the subjects are Moroccan women on motorcycles. Hassan sets traditional clothing such as abayas and headscarves against prints of international brands like Louis Vuitton and Nike. Original and daring, but very appealing. In this way he pokes fun at the stereotypical representations of “the west and the east”. He draws attention to the increasing globalisation in a unique way and proves that the African, Arabic and European cultures can go hand in hand and even complement each other.

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Kesh Angels © Hassan Hajjaj

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Hajjaj Miriam © Hassan Hajjaj

Click here to view sample pages. Buy the book here.

Rose Issa Projects, 2013 ISBN: 978-0-9570213-5-8 . Hard cover, 120 pages, 100 colour photos

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