Hassan Hajjaj’s culture-clashing work is perhaps best described by way of his nickname, “the Andy Warhol of Marrakech”. This month, the British-Moroccan artist is taking over Somerset House in a “homecoming” exhibition in partnership with 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, his first UK solo show in seven years. Hassan Hajjaj: La Caravane presents Hassan’s dynamic body of work across photography, performance, music, fashion and design to date and brings in new work in the form of photographs and sculptures which combine contemporary North African culture with globally familiar Western iconography.
To celebrate the opening of Hassan Hajjaj: La Caravane, we asked Ceri Hand, who is Director of Programmes at Somerset House Trust, to tell us more about her favourite works in the exhibition. “I obviously love all of Hassan’s work in the exhibition but I guess I am drawn to the curious, subtly subversive images, particularly of women ready to engage, to participate, to collaborate and to take on the world,” Ceri says. “They remind me of all the brilliant pioneering artists and people I know who have fought to bring something unique to the table, who forge new creative paths and make waves to encourage positive change; quietly assertive, fully switched on and ready for action.”
Abimaro & Lakwena
“I love this picture of artists Abimaro and Lakwena even more now I have met them. They are talented artists and musicians, sisters and lovely women, so it’s wonderful to see them in both this photo and perform in the brilliant accompanying video work My Rockstars Experimental Vol. 2. Lakwena was originally having her photo taken by Hassan outside his shop in Shoreditch when Abimaro started casually singing and her lilting, haunting voice inspired Hassan to shoot them together. As a consequence their performance in the film is an intimate reflection of their individual talents and their relationship.”
“We are especially delighted they have agreed to work with our networks of young people and Somerset House visitors to create a collaborative artwork for our La Caravane Finnisage Event. I’m really looking forward to seeing what they create in the public areas outside Hassan’s show, but also meeting some more of the brilliant musicians that feature in Hassan’s video work.”
“The signature Kesh Angels image by Hassan playfully reminds us all not to judge a book by its cover. Hassan filmed these women bikers around Marrakesh getting a first-hand insight into how they navigate the city, their lives and their personalities, before creating a series of photos that are simultaneously analogue and digital, historical and modern, a portrait and a landscape. Hassan creates the bespoke frames for his photographs from found food and drink cans that he carefully selects then utilises in repeat to further offset the image and complicate our reading of the subjects within the frame. Contrasting coloured cans of pop, tins of meat and Lego blocks marked with Arabic lettering upend our notions of difference.”
Afrikan Boy Sittin’
“Hassan’s experience as a stylist and designing and creating his own fashion and garments informs how he responds to finding the unique quality in everybody he works with. Born in Morocco but growing up in London, Hassan was deeply influenced by hip-hop and reggae scenes and in particular Danny Dapper’s style of mashing 80s Harlem hustler style with couture fashion. Dapper is now renowned for creating glamorous, affordable streetwear that ended up creating iconic looks for artists such as Bobby Brown and Eric B & Rakim.
“Hassan’s own signature style of repurposing objects and textiles and splicing the old with the new to create something truly unique permeates his approach to creating original sets for all his photographs. The stunning image of grime MC Afrikan Boy Sittin’ really captures an essence of this artist. Already renowned for his inimitable style, Hassan staged Afrikan Boy in a suit made from around ten African flags, framing his confident posture to demands an intelligent conversation with us. Hassan likes Afriikan Boy’s poetic approach to the everyday challenges of life, recited from the heart. Afrikan Boy made a guest appearance on the track “Hussel” on the M.I.A. album Kala, touring in support of the album and also on the 2008 People Vs. Money Tour. He is a good example of somebody Hassan admires who is self-taught, self-motivated but extends a hand to others."
“I love the new M.R.S (My Rock Star – Hats, Socks and Shades) figurative sculptures that reflect Hassan’s proclivity for working with multiples. In this triptych he playfully puts disembodied mannequin body parts into repeat whilst they sport jaunty socks and hats. Pop sunglasses promise a brighter future without their masters as they form characters without a face. These hypnotising psychedelic trophy cabinets are like the remnants of a prog-rock tour spliced with a mad day in Hassan’s dressing up box. These spoils of a wild youth on the road are potential props intended to draw out the wildest side of the subjects Hassan shoots, nattily embellishing the characters performing their identity to camera.”
“I also love Bellydancer, which is a beguiling photograph of a male belly dancer that Hassan shot in Marrakesh in the infamous square of tradesmen, hawkers, tourists, hopes and desires. Setting up his makeshift photo-booth on the street informs Hassan’s position of shooting the subject from the ground up, which serves to deliberately elevate the subject. This is also the reason Hassan likes the audience in his shows to look up to the people he photographs – everybody is a star to Hassan.”