Hassan Hajjaj (b. 1961; Moroccan British) creates vibrant, boldly colorful portraits of inspiring figures in his life—musicians, friends, artists—that express evolving notions of self and society in today’s globalized, hyperconnected world. The artist photographs his subjects outfitted in fashions of his own design and situated in studios he builds himself and installs on the street. The images are then fitted in a frame made from various commercial products, enshrining each portrait in an international blend of music, fashion, and consumer culture.
With a history in street fashion, Hajjaj dresses his subjects with expertly blended ensembles of modern streetwear and traditional, intricate Moroccan prints. They pose in temporary studios installed on city streets, with North African textiles and pedestrian materials as their loud, joyful backdrops. The artist’s sitters often strike playful poses bursting with energy: some sit on a repurposed plastic crate or straddle a motorcycle, others do karate kicks or balance in handstands. Hajjaj then builds custom frames for the resulting photograph, and fills them with a variety of consumer products labelled with Arabic text, from Coca-Cola cans, to tomato sauce, to tea tins. In this way, the artist mimics the repetitive motifs of traditional Islamic zellige, where each can permutates in a repetitive manner, mimicking the tiled designs of traditional Islamic architecture. Hajjaj thereby transforms these quotidian goods into elements of artistic tradition, creating an interplay of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, and offering a new mode of celebrating iconic cultural figures through portraiture.
Hajjaj locates his playful, distinctly contemporary style of portraiture in the traditions of African masters of studio photography, including Seydou Keïta (1921-2001, Malian), Samuel Fosso (b. 1962, Cameroonian), and Malick Sidibé (1936-2016, Malian). Learning from these artists, Hajjaj absorbed the idea of studio portraiture as a malleable vehicle for identity definition. This became the inspiration for his own process of reshuffling cultural signifiers to portray a world where individuals build identities from a broad array of international influences and media. In his own words, ”In the 80s you have to remember that London was just starting to blend. We all came from different backgrounds. We had to create something to find our space.” Hajjaj does just this in his images, blending, juxtaposing and mirroring the traditional Moroccan motifs of his heritage with contemporary signifiers of global style and consumption.
Hassan Hajjaj’s works are represented in the permanent collections across the globe, including those of the Brooklyn Museum, New York, NY; Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, CA; Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK; Institut des Cultures d’Islam, Paris, France; Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, UAE; Kamel Lazaar Foundation, Tunisia; Musée d’Art Contemporain Africain Al Maaden, Marrakesh, Morocco; and National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia. The artist has presented landmark exhibitions at Freies Museum, Berlin, Germany; British Museum, London, UK; Newark Museum, NJ; and Leighton House Museum, UK. Hajjaj was born in 1961, in Larache, Morocco, and currently lives and works between London and Marrakesh.