REPRESENT I – the first part in a FNND series of profiles of artists represented by galleries in Dubai.
Artist and designer Hassan Hajjaj – represented by The Third Line
Born in Larache, Morocco, in 1961, Hassan Hajjaj left Morocco for London at an early age. Heavily influence by the club, hip-hop, and reggae scenes of London as well as by his North African heritage, Hajjaj is a self-taught and thoroughly versatile artist whose work includes portraiture, installation, performance, fashion, and interior design, including furniture made from recycled utilitarian objects from North Africa, such as upturned Coca-Cola crates as stools and aluminium cans turned into lamps.
Turning to photography in the late 80s, Hajjaj is a master portraitist, taking studio portraits of friends, musicians, and artists, as well as strangers from the streets of Marrakech, often wearing clothes designed by the artist. These colourful and engaging portraits combine the visual vocabulary of contemporary fashion photography and pop art, as well as the studio photography of African artist Malick Sidibe, in an intelligent commentary on the influences of tradition in the interpretations of high and low branding and the effects of global capitalism.
Hajjaj’s work plays with and upends stereotypes, the power of branding, and the familiarity of everyday objects, applying a ‘street-wise’ approach to his layering of influences, items, and cultural signifiers to imbue the work with an electrifying tension. His confident, upbeat portraits of young women wearing veils and djellabah while posing on motorcycles subvert preconceived notions of Arab women; his subjects are traditionally clad but defiantly modern, bearing bright smiles and the markers of youth, independence, celebration and fun. As Kelly Carmichael writes in her 2010 essay in Contemporary Practices, “Hajjaj’s approach is to toy with the perceptions of Arabic culture and the relationship between East and West, recasting iconic images and allowing shafts of 21stcentury light to reenergize the encounter… [while] his practice on inclusion and contrast rarely offers just one aesthetic of theoretical opinion.”
Borrowing from the tradition of African studio photography and the glossy aesthetic of the fashion shoot, Hajjaj’s work combines the personal with the political, the individuality of his subjects framed by consumer goods and adorned with the trappings of culture and branding. The handcrafted inlaid wood frames are made up of quotidian branded objects like soda cans and Moroccan packaging, mixing old and new, both responding to and completing the works they surround.
In 2009, Hajjaj was shortlisted for Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize for Islamic Art. His solo exhibitions have been held at The Third Line, Dubai; Rose Issa Projects, London; Freies Museum, Berlin, as well as group exhibitions such as The Marrakesh Art Biennale; Edge of Arabia, London; Photoqua, Paris; and Re-orientations at Rose Issa Projects, among others. His work is in the collections of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Farjam Collection, Dubai; Institut des Cultures d’Islam, Paris; Kamel Lazaar Foundation, Tunisia; Virginia Museum of Fine Art, Richmond, VA, and more. The artist lives and works between London, UK and Marrakech, Morocco.
Hassan Hajjaj was part of an exhibition curated by Shannon Ayers Holden at the Sharjah Art Foundation.