Khadija, 2010/1431, Edition of 7, Metallic Lambda Print On 3mm White Dibond, 53.5h x 36.77w in / 135.9h x 93.4w cm
Hassan Hajjaj, who was born in Morocco and is based in London, is a master of several design genres, including furniture, fashion, interiors and record-album covers. Ove the past decade, he has synthesized them, and more, into dazzling photo-portraits that are dynamic transcultural documents. The images depict a distinctive subculture of young Moroccan women who work as henna tattoo artists and traverse the city of Marrakesh on motorbikes. They pose against brightly colored, sometimes patterned backgrounds, staddling or lounging on their bikes with the evident pride and ease, wearing veils and abayas of an unusually lively sort (that are either of the tattoo artists' own or Mr. Hajjaj's design).
These ensembles are insouciant mixes of old and new, East and West, global and local, foreign and familair. They combine, say, polka dots and camouflage with slippers that use trademark Gucci fabrics or the occasional Nike swoosh. Other fabrics are printed with Arabic script, flowers or spikey leaves. They bring to mind the women in Mughal painting, but also exotic action figures.
Adding to the visual richness are frames whose small niches hold cans of tamatoes, Spam, car wax or soda, all labeled in Arabic. Items that the women might buy, these local variations on familiar commodities contribute additional colors and patters to the proceedings. Mr. Hajjaj's images belong to a history of studio photography that stretches from the medium's beginnings to the present, while building on the works of sub-Saharan photographers like Malick Sidibé, who also placed his subjects before signifying backdrops. They riff on Matisse's odalisques, Jeff Koons's basketball ads and fashion photography as well, all filtered throught the lens of a different, indisputably contemporary culture.