Kitsch meets uber cool in the dazzlingly colourful work of Moroccan/UK multi-media artist and photographer Hassan Hajjaj. Infused with the heady flavour of Marrakesh tea-shops and colours of the medina, Hassan’s work pictures a vibrant portrait of contemporary Morocco. Inspired by the late Malian studio photographer Malick Sidibé, Hassan’s portraits are artfully composed and styled, featuring elaborately patterned backdrops, clashing fashion and bold poses. His 2014 photo series Kesh Angels featured a cool-as all-girl biker gang from Marrakesh and blew up on the internet. These no-nonsense ladies stare out at the viewer, challenging Arabic female stereotypes with their daring poses. In these images, as in all of Hassan’s work, east and west collide in a brilliant pop-culture mashup that amplifies both cultures rather than dilutes. In his My Rock Stars series, Hassan photographs musician friends from over the years in the same pop aesthetic. Ubiquitous Coca-cola crates, bric-a-brac and other daily consumer goods infiltrate Hassan’s work as props and decorative details on his elaborate custom frames that he creates for each piece. Hanging on the walls of museums and commercial galleries, these pieces create a delightful juxtaposition between high and low brow. We were fortunate to be able to ask Hassan a few questions for this #AfricaMonth feature.
From an early age you’ve had your hand in many different creative pies. How do all the different expressions and permutations of your creativity influence and inform each other?
Growing up in Morocco and London, the culture gave me a lot to work with. From pop culture to music; films, colour, travel and food.
Your work looks like you have a lot of fun creating it. Is this the case? What do you think this adds to the finished piece?
Yes, it’s definitely a lot of fun but sill hard work, and in a good way. It’s almost like creating my own little world.
The internet has had a profound effect on culture generally. Has the internet influenced your work at all?
I have been very lucky. The internet has helped my work communicate with a global audience.
You’ve said in another interview that you don’t generally overthink your work, rather adopting an approach of “if it works, it works”. Please tell us then a little about your creative process.
I always work where I feel good and where I find a positive mood.
Your custom frames are works of art in their own right. How do you decide what to include in each creation?
This happens after the shoot. I think about what frame would work well with each image.
Colour, texture, pattern and pop-culture elements are key aspects of your work. Why?
I live in the Old Medina in Marrakesh and in London, in Camden Town Market. These neighbourhoods have shaped the way I layer colour and pattern.
Like the famed Malian photographer Malick Sibidi, your studio portraits seem to capture whole worlds outside of the studio’s walls. How does styling, pose, composition and props play a part in telling the stories of the people that you photograph?
Most of the people I shoot normally have something that projects style. At the end of the day, the people I shoot are the storytellers.
What role does music play in your life and creative work?
A major role.
As is often the case with pop art, there’s an interesting paradox in the low-brow subject of your work and the fine art context that it’s often shown in. How do you make sense of this disjuncture?
I was born in 1961 and pop was always round. I’m a 60’s child.
What are you currently working on and what’s next for you?
Opening next is “My Rock Stars” solo exhibition that will show at the Memphis Brooks Museum on May 25th. Following is a group show opening at Colette in Paris which opens on July 4th.