The Moroccan-born, UK-based photographer and filmmaker tells us about a melting pot of influences that bridge both countries – from couNterfeit designer goods to clubbing and the art worlD
Londoners will likely remember a large photograph pasted on the side of a building on City Road that featured a woman in a Louis Vuitton-printed niqab. Far from just another piece of London street art, it was created by Moroccan-born, London-based artist, Hassan Hajjaj. Dubbed “The Andy Warhol of Marrakech”, Hajjaj straddles the underground and mainstream art worlds and his work also included in major global institutions, such as New York’s Brooklyn Museum, London’s British Museum, and Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, to name just a few. With a career spanning three decades, Hajjaj has also extended himself into sculpture, fashion and film – he recently relaunched his streetwear label, R.A.P London (which stands for Real Authentic People) and his first feature-length film, Karima: A Day in the Life of a Henna Girl, debuted at LACMA in 2015.
Born in Larache, Morocco in 1961, Hajjaj arrived in London in the 80s. One of his focus points was to depict a different side of homecountry than he believed the west perceived it. “Camels and mint tea; that’s all anyone used of to think of when I said Morocco”, he scoffs. His work in photography, design, film, fashion, and the club scene means that, like Warhol did, Hajjaj borrows from his rich and ever-evolving surroundings. “But”, he explains, “anyone can take a pretty picture, my work is always about the story and the people”.
His most well-known series, “Kesh Angels”, showed vibrant and enigmatic portraits of young women wearing veils and djellabah, with added Puma and Gucci branding, sitting astride motorcycles. The mixture of religious iconography, consumerism, and in-your-face branding was striking – and they were, delightfully, also turned into Barbie dolls. In the eyes of Hajjaj, he is just “showing the world as I know it” and photographing people that “are either friends with or I want to party with”. But, for many others, he is celebrated as an artist that subverts preconceived notions of the Arab world and provides a visual counter-narrative to the relationship between the east and west through his re-contextualisation of iconic imagery. Either way, his work is fascinating and we decided to chat to the self-taught artist himself.