Our Featured Artist – Hassan Hajjaj

Still in his teens, the Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj moved from Larache to London, where he quickly became immersed in the city’s lively club scene. In the 1980s, open to diverse influences and crossing boundaries between different aspects of popular culture, he worked as a club manager and band promoter, launching his own clothing and accessories label RAP in 1984. He has also made paintings, designed furniture, album covers and restaurant interiors. Hajjaj only began to visit Morocco regularly when he became a father. He has commented: ‘I started to want to create work that would celebrate my culture and show it in a positive way.” At the heart of Hajjaj’s eclectic practice is a celebration of the popular visual culture of the Moroccan market or souk, and its integrated role within the souk as a social space for interaction and exchange. The vibrancy of this visual culture has been noted by Tunisian-born writer and poet Abdelwahab Meddeb, who has observed that, as in many poorer countries across the world, vernacular – or street – culture in Morocco thrives on ingenious and creative recycling, which gives it the kind of cultural currency lacking in local western-influenced Fine Art practices: ‘In countries like Morocco…I could see that more art was circulating in the street than among the artists subjugated by European ersatz. I saw more visual worth in the innovative objects manufactured in the craft workshops open to the streets and squares in Marrakech, such as buckets made from truck tyres or the drainpipes made from the ductile metal of tin cans.’ Hajjaj is best-known for designing the ‘Andy Wahloo’ bar-restaurant in 2003 in the third arrondissement of Paris, one of several establishments owned by Mourad ‘Momo’ Mazouz and his brother Hakim. The bar was converted on a shoestring budget. Though sounding like a corruption of Andy Warhol, an artist admired by Hajjaj, ‘Andy Wahloo’ is in fact a Parisian slang-inspired term meaning ‘I have nothing’, adopted by Hajjaj to describe his way of working. Fusing pop cultural influences from his dual cultural experiences, the interior brings together such recycled North African objects as road signs transformed into table-tops, and upturned Coca-Cola crates made into stools, with refined handcrafted items such as kilim cushions, lanterns and kitsch, 1970’s household items.3 The riot of colour, playful juxtaposition of patterns, and co-existence of old and new creates an ebullient, feel-good environment.

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