I think we can speak for many people when we say that we enjoy looking at art that shows life in a fantasy; preferably in vivid colors. Although minimal and conceptual art has a prominent space in the art scene today, we will always have deep admiration for art that shows how much the artist poured their soul into their works, who take a piece of something from their lives and lay it before our eyes in ways we never really thought of.
In our world today, migrant experiences of artists are seen as a “transformative experience” that has the ability to unleash a creative journey into the multiplicity of systems around us. Interpreting the world around them through the lens of their cultural backdrops, artists of this background put forth unique works that enrich the contemporary art scene. Of such artists with that unique voice, Hassan Hajjaj, applying the Western eye to the African tradition, steals the spotlight by pouring his colorful soul into his works.
Moroccan-born and living in London, Hajjaj has shown his work all over the world (including Istanbul, with No Lab’s Modern Africa / A Rainbow Nation exhibition that started on the 13th of October at Conceptual Gallery) and is included in many acclaimed museum and private collections like the Brooklyn Museum, Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Victoria & Albert Museum, and the British Museum in London, to name a few.
His work is influenced by both his North African heritage and the hip hop, reggae and club scenes of London, the city he’s been living in since an early age. Starting photography in the 80s, Hajjaj also worked as an assistant stylist in music videos. Touching on many aspects of his life, his artistic style combines fashion and studio photography with pop art, while celebrating North African craftsmanship and customs. By merging all the above, Hajjaj creates a new visual language, and the results make quite a spectacular work, to say the least.
Each piece is meticulously constructed with a custom frame that includes North African wood work, fabrics, patterns, or more Pop items like Coca-Cola cans and other consumer products or cheap market finds. Inside every frame, his subjects confront us with a straight gaze as they play with their props, and show off their confidence in their proud attire.
The styling of the people in the photographs are done with both Hajjaj’s own designs and traditional garments by local designers. Traditional elements are always made obvious whether in the details, on the form or in the way the looks are accessorized. These pieces are carried by people in the close circle of Hajjaj, who are mostly creatives, or simply by people he met on the streets. Although it is obvious in his perfectly constructed images that he directs his shots, one could say his choice of people to photograph shows that he is very much interested in holding on to that characteristic quality of his subjects, and does not merely see them as a tool in ‘getting the job done’.
But, many would agree that what stands out the most in Hajjaj’s work is his brilliant eye for color and patterns, which makes the balance between modern graphic and eastern oriental. Whether they’re in pastel or bold, his colors pop to bring the person and fashion to the forefront of the picture.
From styling to the construction of the whole piece, he acts as a catalyst between cultures. The way he merges the East and the West in his works is easily digestible, therefore reaching a wider audience. His references to Pop art even comes down to using consumer products sold in North Africa. Through such a mix of visual vocabulary, he is like a bridge between different contemporary norms and ideologies.
Walking on this road, Hajjaj continues to cast his spell on us with a strong aesthetic language and appeal of his works that always makes us stop and wonder “What is going on here?” Thank you Hassan Hajjaj for welcoming us to your vibrant world with open arms. We love you exactly for that.