We were so struck by the image you see on this month’s cover that we knew we wanted to use it the moment we saw it and, of course, wanted to then know more about the man behind the camera.
Not only did Hassan Hajjaj shoot the image on this month’s cover and the images on these pages, he’s also responsible for the truly personality-catching shots of our Artist of the Month, Simo Lagnawi. As you’ll see, those images capture the essence of the musician – the traditional and the modern man of Gnawa music – so effortlessly whilst aesthetically blowing you away.
When you meet Hassan though, you quickly come to realize that he’s more than merely a photographer. He’s a man of many talents (he designed and constructed the central ‘Diwaniya’ at REUSE 5.0 for example) and his life seems to be a constant evolution. He’s designed a restaurant, builds furniture from old signs, owns a shop in London, and in the 80’s even launched his own clothing label called RAP.
The vibrancy of Hassan’s work is a feast for the eyes and the poignancy of the themes is stimulation for the mind. His work fuses the soul of Middle Eastern souks with the urbanity of London streets, exploring themes of tradition in our modern, global, branded world. His ability to hold a mirror up to society by focusing on objects we see (and consume) on a daily basis raises questions about the world we live in. The upturned Arabic branded Coke crates on our cover speak volumes about this.
Tell us a little bit about your background, how all this got started…
I was born in Morocco and came to live in London at the age of fourteen in 1973. I came out of school with no qualifications. Due to this, I worked many odd jobs from gardener, working in a timber yard, to working at Woolworths. Then I became unemployed for a few years and during this time got involved with opening a fashion shop while promoting clubs, DJs and bands. I also assisted fashion stylist Andy Blake for magazines and catwalk shows. I worked with Zak Ove on his music promo videos and curated some art shows at my store. All these experiences come out in my art.
You’re a man of many differing talents, has there been a natural evolution in your work?
Yes. I think it all happened naturally as I never thought of becoming an artist.
Do you have a preferred medium?
Not really, as I like to stay free.
What themes do you explore with your work?
Life around me, from travelling, living between the two places (London and Morocco), people I meet, food I eat, and music I listen to.
London or Marrakech? Why?
Both. It gives me balance in my life as a person.
You blend the modern and the global brand, with the traditional and the local, what are you trying to say with this?
I have worked with what is around me. As a 60’s child there was a lot of branding. Growing up in Morocco with tradition and the artisanal, and then in London with all its influences. The work that I show is like a peep through a keyhole into my background in Morocco and London.
What inspires you?
Art, travel, music, fashion, food, color, people, sun, rain, happy, sad.
You have a shop in London…
Yes, I got this shop from the government and I was using it as a base at first; but the area has become very trendy so I decided to turn it into a shop to show my and some friends’ design works.
And you designed a restaurant/bar in Paris…
This work took about fifteen years to finish at ‘Andy Wahloo’ in Paris. I was doing shows with this body of work in the 90’s and Momo (restaurateur Mourad Mazouz) was sponsoring me. When he got this empty space in Paris he asked me to turn it into a bar with my work.
Tell us more about your use of the word ‘Wahloo’…
‘Andy’ means ‘I’ and ‘wahloo’ means ‘nothing’. It is because my work was seen as kind of Andy Warholesque and this body of work was inspired by recycling that I decided to call it Andy Wahloo (sounds like Andy Warhol).
What are you currently working on?
I have two solo shows in the autumn with Rose Issa Gallery in London and the Third Line Gallery in Dubai.