Fondly known as the ‘Andy Warhol of Marrakech’, British-Moroccan artist, designer and photographer Hassan Hajjaj has called London his home since the early 70s. Since then, he has found himself caught between two cultures – a feeling that has played a prominent role in much of his work since he first taught himself how to use a camera in the late 80s.
Hajjaj’s work typically mixes Western images and products with Arabic influences, such as models wearing traditional Moroccan outfits called djellabas but framed with imported cans of Coca-Cola. The photographer’s new solo show at contemporary art gallery New Art Exchange in Nottingham features many of his best known works, as well as a host of new pieces.
The exhibition’s title, Paths, nods to Hajjaj’s personal journey from his hometown of Larache to London and the work he does around the world today, as well as taking inspiration from jazz-fusion musician Ralph MacDonald’s album of the same name.
Curated by Ekow Eshun, the show includes a number of works from the photographer’s Dakka Marrakchia series, including his breakthrough Gangs of Marrakesh image (a reference to the film Gangs of New York), which mixes traditional Islamic veils with camo print and Western high fashion.
“I was playing around with things that had inspired me between my time in Morocco and London, such as fashion and film,” says Hajjaj. “Marrakesh is known as motorbike city, everybody has a motorbike whether they are young, old, traditional or modern, which is why I also incorporated motorbikes. When you look at the image, at first it looks a bit scary but then you spot the Louis Vuitton slippers, which perhaps made it easier for people from the West to read at the time.”
A number of British personalities are featured as part of Hajjaj’s ongoing My Rockstars series, including painter Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, jazz musician Kamaal Williams and the shoe designer Marc Hare. A special Everyday Superstars commission organised by the NAE team will see a person nominated by the local community have their portrait taken by Hajjaj, and will sit alongside the other ‘rockstars’ in the show.
For the first time in the UK, Hajjaj will show Between, a selection of photography that focuses on landscape, place and sensibility rather than portraiture, and is based on the artist’s travels in Africa and the Middle East.
NAE will also transform its Mezzanine Gallery space into Le Salon, a space designed and furnished in Hajjaj’s trademark style. As well as being a place for reading and relaxation, it will act as a space for local performers, musicians and spoken word artists to share their work with visitors.