Sunday, November 25, 2007

Profile: Hassan Hajjaj: Making Pop Art for the Middle East

From his striking photographs of North African life, to his distinctive ‘recycled’ sculptures, it’s no surprise that Hassan Hajjaj
has been dubbed the ‘Andy Warhol of Marrakech’. Hajjaj has been making waves all over Europe, with his work appearing on everything from advertising campaigns right down to the album artwork of historic indie band Blur. Hajjaj is also reputable as the man who furnished the popular Andy Wahloo venue in Paris, adding his personalized touches to give the restaurant an atmosphere like no other.

Hajjaj’s past lies within two different, yet strong cultures. Born and raised in Larache, Morocco in 1962, Hajjaj, along with his mother and sisters, followed his father to London in 1973. Spending his time in the city, he became influenced by the distinct 70s sounds and art, and as a result started to work on projects that would fuse his newfound Western roots with that of his past. After returning to Morocco in the 80s, his North African influence was strengthened in his photography and art, picking up on bold contrasts and discovering simple, yet potent ways to create striking pieces of art.

His love for both London and Morocco is one that has helped him develop clearer ideas about his work. “In Marrakech you have a lot of artists, colors, sounds and smells that make you want to make things. In London I'm surrounded with so much diversity from art, to food, to cinema, as well as the different people from all over the world. Living and working between the two worlds always fascinates me with the difference, which I try to express in my work.”

Even though he claims his venture into designing was ‘totally accidental!’, Hajjaj has been moved by the recent attention to his work. “It's always nice when I get complemented by someone from any Arab country, that's where I feel I’m doing something proud for our culture. I have been doing this for around 12 years now and (now) it seems that I'm getting some attention for my work.”

Looking at Hajjaj’s work, it is easy to see why most Arabs can identify with it. Using recycled packaging and every-day objects sourced from the Middle Eastern streets, his colorful pieces represent remnants of nostalgia and association for many Arabs – as well as passing important social commentary regarding the present and the past. On the other hand, Hajjaj has a more straightforward approach to his work - “I try to keep it to my lifestyle. I try not to analyze it as long as it feels right for me”.

Hajjaj is currently in the stages of completing a Moroccan guest house – the Riad Yima – an old-fashioned Moroccan accommodation that Hajjaj is in the process of extensively furnishing. Hajjaj is scheduled to be in Dubai come November for an exhibition at the Third Line Gallery, where he will surely bowl the audiences over with his unique brand of Middle Eastern Warholian glamour.

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