Hassan Hajjaj straddles the divide not just between countries and cultures, but art and artisans. And it’s this unique mix of perspectives and disciplines that has made him arguably Morocco’s hottest current art export.
Hajjaj’s portrait photography, shown in galleries including London’s Somerset House and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is created and framed using the products and skills of Marrakech’s artisans.
And while his real love are the everyday ‘heroes’ of the city – from friends and neighbours to gnaoua musicians and the henna artists of Djemaa el Fna – he’s also developed a celebrity following that’s seen Madonna, Cardi B and Will Smith sit for him over the past couple of years.
Hajjaj was born and grew up in the northern city of Larache before leaving Morocco for England aged 14 and quitting school a year later with no qualifications. He entered the London party scene and became a promoter turned streetwear designer, an aspect of his early career that still comes through in the exuberant colours, bold patterns and touchable textures of his work.
In 1989, he began taking photographs and at first his work was purely private. But in 1995, he returned to Marrakech for the first time in years and it was the start of his unique creative partnership with the city.
“I got back to London thinking I´d probably never go there again but something about the place kept calling me back, ‘he says. “The next thing I knew I was coming two or three times a year, but always I felt it was only because the city was inviting me. I didn’t want to be someone that came just to take, I wanted to be a part of the city, its life and its people – I wanted in some way to protect them.”