Colour, pomp, and Funk-Maroc blow the incessant omnipresence of Nordic minimalism out of the design lover’s sight for a brief moment at London’s Somerset House. Hassan Hajjaj’s homecoming exhibition, La Caravane, after a seven year absence celebrates [North] African diversity, design, and its people.
Hajjaj’s portraiture embellishes strong characters in a fashion that meshes street style, nostalgic and traditional elements of Moroccan and African sapeurism with Western artistic practice. Hajjaj photographs individuals whose characters appeal to him in some form.
The artist has spent his life travelling between Morocco and the UK after leaving the African continent at the age of twelve. Since then, his art has been heavily influenced by the two cultures. Upon entering the exhibition one is greeted by an ostentatiously embellished motorbike which features in the surrounding portraits reminiscent of editorial shoots boasting strong women clad in bold prints and exciting colour clashes. The characters in his shoots include actors, singers, rappers, and athletes – each is individually framed in fizzy pop-art and Harissa paste.
“After not doing a solo show in London for seven years, I thought of this show to bring all the mixed media that I have been working on to share with friends and the public, that’s why I called the show La Caravane.” The term Caravan stems from Persian – its meaning developed to describe a group of people such as traders or pilgrims traveling across the desert in Asia or Africa, typically in single file. In the second half of the exhibition called My Rockstars: Volume 2, a nine screen installation of African musical artists are lined up against the wall taking it in turn to perform for the audience.
To the eye unaccustomed to positively or progressively connoted images of veiled women, this exhibition offers a genuine challenge to preconceptions developed from a diet of monolithic media consumption. Like his contemporaries Omar Victor Diop and Leila Alaoui, Hajjaj celebrates the power of his proudly African subjects parading them past the objectifying voyeuristic images of old. Hajjaj’s lively, challenging, engaging, and free exhibition is on at London’s Somerset House until 7th January 2018.
Cover image: Rider, photograph by ©Hassan Hajjaj, courtesy of the artist and Vigo Gallery