The confident and direct gaze of these Arabic girl gangs on motorbikes can only make you smile. Like all good art, Hassan Hajjaj’s Kesh Angels immediately goes to work on preconceived ideas of young Arabic women.
The images nod to a heritage of African street studio photography, by the likes of Malik Sidibe and Seydou Keita as well as Arabic film posters of his childhood and the high gloss and finish of fashion photography. Hajjaj has constructed a potent narrative juxtaposing East and West. Using friends and local women as models, he draws upon the biker culture of the young women of Marrakesh and styles the women in a mix of customized traditional wear – veils and djellabah with counterfeit fashion logos be it, Louis Vuitton and Nike along with bold prints, pattern and some fine gangster/pop star posturing.
He then frames these images in another layer of ephemera from contemporary culture; from Lego with Arabic lettering to cans of Fanta, or boxes of chicken stock. This mash-up of the output of our consumerist society is an intentionally ambiguous commentary on our obsessions and the power of brands but also a celebration of the reinterpretation and power of these same objects and brands in expressing personal identity. We live in a contrary world.
British-Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj left Morocco for London at an early age. Hajjaj is a self-taught artist that has worked variously as a van driver, club promoter, restaurant designer and fashion store owner. Coming of age in London’s Punk era, “Hajjaj rode the cultural and economic wave of the times. His ability to spot and catch a trend just as it began to surface says much about the shrewd ‘street-wise Moroccan kid’ and many aspects associated with his earlier ventures are later incorporated and translated into his artistic practice.” Frustrated to see his native country used only as a backdrop for Western women and clothing, whilst working as an assistant on a fashion shoot, the experience pushed him to make Morocco a prominent subject in his own work. And within Kesh Angels we see that powerful blend of the very personal and the political.
Kesh Angels is currently on show at the Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York until 7th March 2014