Photographer and designer Hassan Hajjaj was born in Larache, Morocco in 1961 and moved to London in 1975. Before becoming a full-time photographer, he worked as a gardener, a club promoter, a clothing store owner and a record salesman. “I’ve done a bit of everything,” he says. It’s this variety that colors his work, which brings together elements from the worlds of fashion, Moroccan street culture and consumer iconography.
He is currently exhibiting his ‘Kech Angels series, a body of work exploring the biker culture of the young women of Marrakech, at Rose Issa Projects in Kensington, London. Hajjaj took a few minutes to speak with Dia during the final week of the exhibition.
First of all, thanks for speaking with us. Can you tell me how you got involved in photography?
It was more of a hobby for me at first, but I’ve always been a big fan of photography. The first time I set up a camera was probably 1990, but a lot of my friends were professional photographers and I was just trying it out. Really, around 1996, I decided to do this body of work about packaging in Morocco. I wanted to do something fresh and contemporary from Morocco, where I grew up. It just happened naturally.
A lot of your work makes use of recognizable brand symbols. What’s the significance of that?
The way I was growing up in London in the 80s, I had a fashion shop, and we used to sell a lot of t-shirts with big labels and logos, like Gucci and Prada. Obviously, now that’s illegal, but then it was the fashion. The interesting thing is that those labels weren’t for people like us in that time…. but I wanted to represent something from my background that could be quite fashionable. I played with lots of different elements, asking a Moroccan woman to put on a headscarf with a Gucci or Prada logo. If I went to the companies asking them to use their products in a shoot, they probably would have laughed at me. But this kind of work really communicates to the West. If there’s a woman in the veil and it’s Fendi or Gucci or Prada, the first thing people will notice is that it’s Fendi or Gucci or Prada, not that it’s a woman in a headscarf.
Has that led to any trouble with the brands?
Yes. And that’s all I can say.
You’ve also done a lot of design work—from album covers to hotels. How does your work in other media complement your art practice?
There’s a fine line between art and design and both are my passion—I’m doing what I want. This is what I do, this is what I am, and I hope people appreciate it. I’ve been really happy when I’ve met people from similar backgrounds who enjoy my work.
Where do you see your work in comparison to other artists working on Middle Eastern themes? Which young artists excite you right now?
I just try to stay in my space and get on with it. There are more and more artists coming out of the region and I like a real variety—Shirin Neshat, Khosrow Hassanzadeh, Lara Baladi and Kader Attia are all great.
What are you working on now?
I just finished a big installation—it’s like a riad built out of Coca-Cola crates. I’m also working on a photography project to do with identity. I noticed that a lot of my friends in London come from places with very distinct traditional costumes that they wear for special occasions. When I’m in Morocco, I’ll wear a djellaba, but when I come back to London I wear Western clothes. When you see the different costumes side by side, you can really see the cultural differences. So I’m shooting my friends in two different outfits, in one picture. I’m also collaborating with a writer to bring text to the project.
That sounds very interesting—we’ll look forward to seeing the work soon. Thanks!Share