The Fotografiska contemporary photography gallery in Tallinn's Telliskivi district is opening an exhibition on Friday which will showcase the work of Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj which, organizers say, is awash with vibrant color, speed, and a rhythmic sway, fusing the artist's Moroccan roots with the look of contemporary London.
Often referred to as "the Andy Warhol of Marrakech", the artist, born in 1961, has an exhibition of his work running at the Fotografiska gallery in Tallinn entitled "Vogue, the Arab issue", opening today, Friday.
The title alludes to an experience that Hajjaj had when he, as an English-speaker, helped a friend in whose house a big fashion magazine had a photo-shoot.
Realizing that none of the participants – makeup-artists, models, photographers, and more – had anything to do with Northern Africa, while all participants had been flown in, with the backyard only used as an "exotic" backdrop.
This prompted Hassan to hold his own fashion-shoot packed with local models, design, and cultural context.
The result is one of the series that will be on show at Fotografiska, in an exhibition created in collaboration between Fotografiska and Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.
Speaking of his career, Hassan says: "For me it began when I, as a twelve-year-old newcomer in London, wanted to show my friends something from my native country.
"The friends came from places like the Caribbean, Brazil, and India, places brimming with cultural belonging familiar to everyone: Reggae, Pelé, samba, calypso, rai-music, and more. I wanted them to know that I was also from a cool place, so I created things, graffiti, and scenarios that I shot with a borrowed camera," he went on, according to a Fotografiska press release.
"Things that mixed the Moroccan with the vibrant London that we all lived in. But it was in 1989 when I bought myself a used Pentax from Zak Ové that everything really took off," says Hajjaj, who divides his time between London and Marrakech.
Today, Hassan is represented at, among other locations, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Guggenheim Museum, Abu Dhabi, and the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
Hajjaj borrows, mixes and brings multifaceted artistic expressions into his work, exploring themes like cultural appropriation or taking expressions belonging to one culture and using them in another, in a way that can be perceived as demeaning.
He says he has: "The curiosity to just try things, and make mistakes without holding on to prestige, are some of the benefits of being self-taught. To affect people, and initiate discussions and conversations is probably my strongest motivator. It's not that I always have specific answers, but in a living culture questions need to be asked to make us think, and think again."
"Culture is ever-changing. Like, for example, the wearing of veils: my grandmother didn't, my mother does, but not my sisters. Symbols are transformed by their context. That veils are sometimes seen in my pictures might be something else worth pondering...".
Maarja Loorents, the exhibition manager at Fotografiska Tallinn said: "The new year brings a whole array of exciting photographers from near and far to our exhibition spaces."
"We are happy to start the new year off with a versatile Moroccan-born artist, whose work invites us to a world that is simultaneously distant and unknown, as well as rich and unique. The frames of his works are remarkable works of art too, often created from reused materials," Loorents continued.
The fusion of contemporary London and Hassan's Moroccan roots – he grew up in the 1960s in the fishing town of Larache – are evident in his work, Fotografiska says, while he has been heavily influenced by the club, hip-hop, and reggae scenes of London as well as by his North African heritage.
He is a self-taught artist whose work includes portraiture, installation, performance, fashion, and interior design.
He turned to photography in the late 1980s.
He was awarded the New York PULSE Prize 2014, Sovereign African Art Prize 2011, and was shortlisted for Jameel Prize in 2009.
The gallery opens on Friday, and runs until April 17.
Fotografiska, located at Telliskivi 60a-8 in the Telliskivi Creative Hub in Tallinn, opened in June 2019 and is an offshoot of the original museum of the same name in Stockholm, Sweden.
Editor: Andrew Whyte