This April saw the launch of a new solo exhibition by acclaimed Moroccan-British photographer Hassan Hajjaj at Nottingham’s New Art Exchange. The Path, curated by Ekow Eshun, runs through until 23 June and features new works from the celebrated My Rock Stars series; a new collection of previously unseen travel photographs, In Between; new works from the Dakka Marrakchia series and a site-specific installation called Le Salon.
This exciting showcase exhibits Hassan Hajjaj’s diverse wealth of work, which is characterised by an exuberant melee of colours, patterns, appropriated brand logos and everyday objects, such as the Sprite cans and tomato tins he works into his picture frames. Taking a view through an international lens, Hajjaj uses photography to present a unique and timely consideration of culture and identity in the modern, globalised world.
In the photography series Dakka Marrakchia, women pose like fashion models on the streets and rooftops of Marrakech while dressed in camouflage pattern kaftans and luxury print face veils. The portraits offer Hassan’s perception of Muslim women as dynamic and empowered.
The Path confronts Hajjaj’s dual-identity through the bold use of colour, shape and pattern. The exhibition title references Hajjaj’s personal journey from his birthplace in Larache, Morocco, to London, UK and beyond, into his experience working around the world. The showcase draws inspiration from the album The Path by the jazz-fusion musician Ralph MacDonald, which pays artistic testament to the diasporic scattering of people of African descent around the globe, a common theme in Hajjaj’s practice.
Much of Hajjaj’s work focuses on figures whose family origins mostly lie abroad, in Africa, the Caribbean, the Middle East or elsewhere. Through this theme, Hajjaj conjures a vision of a society united, not divided, by difference. At a time of major conflict within Britain, Hajjaj’s portraits make an urgent, timely case in favour of hybridity and multiculturalism. In his images, cultural identity is seen as fluid and multiple rather than fixed and singular.
At NAE, Hajjaj turns his focus to British personalities, concentrating primarily on figures such as the painter, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, jazz musician, Kamaal Williams and the shoe designer, Marc Hare. As always, his subjects hail from a range of cultural backgrounds creating, in composite, a portrait of Britain at its most dynamically diverse.
For this exhibition, NAE commissioned Hajjaj to produce an additional portrait of a resident from Nottingham, inspired by Hajjaj’s My Rock Stars series and the artist’s approach to celebrating everyday people. Everyday Superstars was a project that invited the local community to nominate remarkable individuals from the city; calling for activists campaigning for social change, supporters of young people, individuals who have accomplished in the face of adversity, or simply amazing talents worthy of recognition.
The Everyday Superstars winner, Nadia Latoya Higgins, was selected by a panel of young people and revealed at the launch of the exhibition. Styled and photographed by Hajjaj, their portrait will appear in The Path, positioned alongside Hajjaj’s other ‘rock stars’. The portrait and accompanying story of the remaining Everyday Superstars nominees will also be displayed at NAE in the venue’s Central Gallery space, photographed this time by local artist, Richard Chung.
For the first time in the UK, Hajjaj will show In Between, a selection of his photography that focuses on landscape, place and sensibility, rather than portraiture. Reflecting the artist’s travels in Africa and the Middle East, the photographs reveal Hajjaj in a new light, as a photographer concerned with the intimacies of everyday life as well as the performed presentation of the self. Hajjaj shifts the focus away from a narrative that positions the ordinary people of the developing world as extras in the drama of globalisation – as refugees, migrants and dollar-a-day strugglers. In Hajjaj’s portraits they are not figures on the margins. They are no less than rock stars in the waiting.
Observing that the celebration and encouragement of creativity sit at the heart of Hajjaj’s practice, The Path also sees NAE transform its Mezzanine Gallery space into Le Salon – a beautiful and unique space designed and furnished by Hajjaj. The area is designed for reading, research and relaxation, but importantly, the space is also a platform to showcase and foster local talent. Over the period of the exhibition, Le Salon will serve as an open space for local performers, musicians and spoken word artists to share their creativity with others.
Hassan Hajjaj: The Path, produced by New Art Exchange, 39-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham, and curated in collaboration with Ekow Eshun, runs through until 23 June 2019. See website for more details.
Main Image: Installation shots of Hassan Hajjaj: The Path by Reece Straw, courtesy of New Art Exchange