After leaving Morocco for the UK at the age of 13, Hassan Hajjaj was quickly drawn to the underground world. With a passion for design and photography, he launched his own clothing label in 1984 at the age of 23. He went on to break into the fashion world with his distinctive style, even shooting for stars such as Madonna, Will Smith and others.

Versatile self-taught artist

Influenced as much by the city’s nightclub, hip-hop and reggae scenes as by his North African heritage, Hajjaj is a versatile self-taught artist whose work includes portraits, installations, performances, fashion and interior design with furniture made from recycled objects such as Coca-Cola cans and crates.

In the late 1980s, Hajjaj began experimenting with photography, taking portraits of friends, musicians, artists and people on the streets of Marrakesh. His colourful images are a blend of contemporary fashion photography and pop art. They are also inspired by the African artist Malick Sidibé (Malian, born in 1936) and act as a commentary on the influence of tradition in brand image and the effects of globalisation. (1)

For Alison Tay, Hassan Hajjaj is slated to become one day a Moroccan folk hero: “More than a multidisciplinary artist, we think one day the world will remember Hassan Hajjaj as a Moroccan folk hero.” (2) 

She goes on to say: (3)

“The last time you encountered Hassan Hajjaj may have been at his pop-up riad at Sole DXB —a riot of colour and his trademark remix of Moroccan cultural references conceived for the 10th anniversary edition of the annual footwear, music, art, and lifestyle festival that he was invited to curate. Or perhaps, more recently, at FIQ!, what can only be described as a high-energy, head-spinning, hip-hop circus of young acrobats from Tangier against the backdrop of the Larache-born multidisciplinary artist’s visual universe at The Red Theatre at NYU Abu Dhabi.”

Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj is renowned for his captivating, vibrant works that fuse contemporary art, fashion and cultural identity. Hajjaj’s diverse background greatly influences his art, which reflects a fusion of North African tradition and Western popular culture. (4)

Inspired by the vibrant street culture of London (5) and his native Morocco, he developed a keen interest in photography and design. His work invites viewers to question stereotypes, (6) celebrate diversity and embrace the beauty of all cultures. (7) He brings together different worlds and aesthetics, creating a visual language that speaks to the interconnectedness of our modern societies.  This interconnectedness is highlighted by Scispace, in the following terms: (8)

“Interconnectedness in art refers to the concept of how different elements within a work of art are connected and interact with each other. It involves the exploration of relationships, processes, and the interplay between various components in the artwork. This can include the interconnectedness of colors, shapes, lines, and textures, as well as the connections between different themes, ideas, or concepts portrayed in the artwork. The idea of interconnectedness in art emphasizes the notion that everything is interconnected and interdependent, and that these connections can be represented and expressed through visual means. It allows for a deeper understanding and appreciation of the complexity and interrelatedness of the world around us.”

Hajjaj’s work has been exhibited worldwide, and his photographs, installations and mixed media pieces have been critically acclaimed for their boldness and innovation. His art not only captures the essence of contemporary culture, but also serves as a powerful social commentary on issues of race, identity and globalization.

Hajjaj’s art embraces diversity in its essence and philosophy and it is not about money like what Lee Down argues for in the following: (9)

“Art isn’t just about money; it’s about conversations. When artists from different backgrounds share their stories, they open doors to understanding. A mural might highlight social issues, a song might bridge cultural divides, and a novel can shed light on history. Diverse art fosters empathy, challenges stereotypes, and sparks dialogue. It makes our communities richer, more inclusive, and more connected.”

In addition to his artistic activities, Hajjaj is a strong advocate for the empowerment of marginalized communities and emerging artists. (10)

Born in 1961 in Larache, Morocco, and a Londoner since 1973, Hassan Hajjaj has lived and worked between the two countries ever since, influenced as much by London’s cultural and musical scenes as by his North African heritage. His artistic universe reflects his ability to build bridges between these two cultures, (11) as revealed by his photographic series, begun in 1980. Large, colourful compositions, adopting the codes of contemporary fashion photography and pop art, they bring together styles, universes and icons.

But beyond the sometimes deliberately kitsch humour that emanates from them, they lend strength to the artist’s committed message. If Hassan Hajjaj plays with brand imagery, it’s as much to answer the question of a “new pop art today”, as a way of expressing his unabashed point of view on consumer society and the wearing of the veil. Through the appropriation of brands by young veiled women, the artist questions the politics of identity. (12)

This mix between the substance of his discourse and the pop form he gives it, is reflected even in the framing of his photographs, which Hassan Hajjaj creates in relief from mostly Moroccan consumer objects (tins, soda cans, tubes of harissa, etc.) and which become an integral part of the work. The nickname given to him by Rachid Taha is surely no coincidence: Andy Warhol, an aphorism that Hassan Hajjaj affixes to his clothes or lends to an eponymous Parisian bar whose design he signed.

Modzik introduces this artist in the following way: (13)

“You’ve probably already seen his graphic photographs, adorned with colours and patterns. Hassan Hajjaj, nicknamed the ‘Warhol of Marrakech’, is a Moroccan visual artist whose distinctive prints have attracted a great deal of attention in recent years. A self-taught photographer, he uses imaginative settings and backdrops of colourful textiles and subversive details to frame his subject. Focus on this artist who combines the codes of pop art with the cultural universe of Morocco, showcasing motley personalities and blending East and West.”

The London artist

"Refugees Of Rap" by Hassan Hajjaj. Photo Credit: Yaser.jam87, Wikimedia Commons"Refugees Of Rap" by Hassan Hajjaj. Photo Credit: Yaser.jam87, Wikimedia Commons
“Refugees Of Rap” by Hassan Hajjaj. Photo Credit: Yaser.jam87, Wikimedia Commons

Anyone who has passed by the façade of 30-32 Calvert Avenue in London will have fond memories of it. The shop functions like a souk, a place for socialising as well as trading. Those who enter can sit down for a cup of tea and a chat with the owner. It’s hard not to be struck by the multitude of quirky, multi-coloured objects that have found a second life in the shop run by Hassan Hajjaj, an Englishman of Moroccan origin.

“I’m not English, I’m Londoner.” For this native of Larache (northern Morocco), who arrived in the English capital London at the age of 13, a strange and foreign territory, and ended up becoming part of his essence: “When I arrived, I spoke Arabic and French. My parents kept me in touch with Arabic, but English soon replaced French. “The shock was hard for little Hassan, who had never been outside Morocco. “The world that awaited me in London was so different from what I knew: the food, the weather, the language, the music, the colours,” he explains. “There were no Arabs in my school, so I got closer to people who had a similar background to mine, who had just arrived from another country: Caribbeans, Indians, Pakistanis, Jamaicans?” he points out.

We built ourselves a community that was our own, that looked like us.” But what diaspora stories, (14) however successful, don’t talk enough about is the feeling of being out of step, of being torn between two worlds. “I was an outsider in my own country and in the country, I arrived in. You leave behind your home, your family, you become a semi-stranger to the people you come from. As for the territory you arrive in, there will always be someone to remind you that you’re not from here“, recalls Hassan Hajjaj.

Young Hassan grew up in a London where the English melting pot  was in full swing. Participating in the cultural mosaic of the UK’s largest city was a way for him to make his British identity his own. With little interest in his studies, Hassan Hajjaj grew up close to the English art scene, assisting his designer friends by filming their fashion shows, taking up photography and creating furniture.

We wanted to listen to music that sounded like us, but it didn’t exist. So, we found a venue, brought in a DJ and created a sound environment. We wanted to create spaces that reflected who my friends and I were,” he says. The Moroccan became a jack-of-all-trades and developed his artistic fibre. “Creating became a way for me to adapt to this new country that had become mine. When you create, you become a new person“, he explains in his English with a British accent.

Exhibited in New York at the Taymour Grahne Gallery, at The Third Line Gallery in Dubai and at the brand-new Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat, Hassan Hajjaj’s art has taken the world by storm. (16) The artist who has found his place among contemporary Moroccan artists is multiplying his experiments, such as his collaboration with the singer Hindi Zahra, for whom he illustrated the cover of her latest album, “Handmade”. Yet Hassan Hajjaj is modest about his success. “I’m happy that people are interested in my work, but I have no idea what impact it has on my sales. I don’t need much, as long as I keep creating“, he explains. The fifty-year-old makes art in his own image, European and African at the same time, proud of his multiculturalism. (17)

Speaking of multiculturalism, (18) because of his Moroccan origin, his British residence, his London promiscuity with cultures of the world, the art of Hassan Hajjaj has undoubtedly become an expression of intercultural communication  and a (19) materialization of interfaith dialogue. (20) His artistic work bashes cultural stereotypes, tears down walls of hatred and misconception and instead builds bridges of understanding and tolerance in a world full, alas, of bigotry and cultural ostracism.

In an interview with Afrique Magazine, Hassan Hajjaj shows that art can create the necessary environment for intercultural communication: (21)

“I think that, quite apart from the fact that borders can divide people and impact on our perception of the world, travelling is the best way of opening up to others. I move around a lot, I meet a lot of people and I realise that we all have a lot in common. Whether we are African, Asian or other, we are first and foremost and simply human. But we are obviously products of our environment, wherever we are. We are the fruit of our roots, our education, our relationships and everything that surrounds us. And I feel particularly privileged to have a broad spectrum, a real openness to the world when I travel, because I’m constantly meeting people from the four corners of the planet.”

The genius of Moroccan pop

Hassan Hajjaj shows his home, Morocco as he sees it through his Western eyes, the eyes he has forged by living in London since the age of 13, but also Morocco as he sees it through his childhood memories and the oriental eyes he has always retained. Hassan Hajja currently lives and works between London and Marrakesh, bringing to life in his photos the cheerful colours and positive energy of a Morocco that combines modernity and tradition. 

Hassan Hajjaj’s models are typically Moroccan: the ordinary woman with her djellaba, babouches and caftan, the gnawi artist with his costume and famous tarboush, the nakasha (woman who does henna tattoos) in Place Jamaa El Fna with her haïk… Hassan Hajjaj turns these characters into veritable rock stars. And speaking of rock stars, there’s a real one, notably Zahra Hindi, the Moroccan-born folk singer who willingly plays model in front of the artist’s lens. 

Hassan Hajjaj, borrowing from the different cultures he inhabits, uses pictorial stereotypes such as odalisques or brand images with their cult logos. He boldly combines and contrasts Eastern and Western elements to create a richly seductive universe that is both personal and universal“, says critic Zahed Sultan. (22) We can’t talk about Hassan Hajjaj’s work without mentioning the care he takes in framing his photos, which is reminiscent of the degree of finish in the repetition of motifs in zellige art. (23) “For Hassan Hajjaj, it’s an extension of his playground, where he has fun reinforcing codes and customs,” explains Zahed Sultan. (24) Alongside his photographic work, Hassan is developing “Le Salon”, a type of installation in which he seeks to stage social interaction.

Flashy colours, kitschy prints and playful settings… His world is a remix of Eastern and Western influences, and his art incorporates clichés to make them vibrant. And his aligned cans have earned him the nickname “King of Moroccan Pop Art“.

His creations partly reflect the change of environment and codes he experienced as a teenager, originally from Morocco and immersed in the underground world of London. His creations blend Arabian references (geometric patterns, bright colours, hijabs, jilbabs, qamis, chadors) with pop culture references (hijacked brands, contemporary clothes, brightly coloured garments, urban babouches), producing a visually explosive rendering and shaking up mentalities about Arab cultures.

Salvaging art

Recognized as one of the pioneers of pop art in Morocco, Hassan Hajjaj’s artistic work has made pop art more popular in Morocco. This has motivated some young Moroccans to follow in his footsteps. Hassan Hajjaj’s talent has enabled him to be called upon to decorate a number of prestigious venues. 

Hassan Hajjaj’s habit is to salvage objects, (25) but the transformation of cement-filled cans of various sizes into barbells makes perfect sense in a period when many of us had to be inventive to stay the course. The result is an incredible work that exudes great strength. It seems to say that human resourcefulness (26) will always be stronger than the state of emergency imposed on it. We make do with what we have to keep fit. No giving up, no giving in, no fatalism, no complacency. This seems to be the message of this work, taken from life, while promoting the values of resistance and surpassing oneself. 

Speaking of the nature of art today, Linda B. Glaser argues in Society for the Humanities: (27)

“Artists today engage with a world very different from that of their predecessors: globally connected, technologically advanced and highly diverse. In the last fifty years the Western canon has been displaced as the benchmark for “good” and worthwhile art, opening the door to works intended to challenge viewers, rather than simply to aesthetically please.”

And she goes on to say:

“Experimentation, with all its risks, is essential to contemporary art and can extend beyond things normally thought of as art. For example, artists in the 50’s and 60’s experimented with money as objects of art; one Japanese artist was arrested for making copies of the 1000 yen note. His legal trouble, says Erber, inspired Japanese artists to reflect on the similarities between art (painting/drawing as a medium) and the production of value with paper money. That reflection inspired Erber to examine the relationship between art and economics.”

Hybrid African artist

His favourite work: the Kesh Angels, the wrinkled women in military-style djellabas and Louis Vuitton babouches in Place Jamaa Al Fnaa, framed by everyday Moroccan consumer goods, a deliberate nod to Andy Warhol. The influence of pop art is palpable even in the oriental lamps made from cans and other recycled metal boxes, a tribute to a popular Morocco that recycles everything. Hassan Hajjaj, nicknamed Andy Warhol by the singer Rachid Taha, (28) likes to divert objects from their original function and give them a second life, just as migrants begin a new journey in their host country.

Everything he creates conjures up an image that is both traditional and modern, the banner of a Morocco that is evolving in a globalised world without losing its bearings. “I’m very proud to be able to present my work under both the Arab and African banners. I would like North Africa to recognise its Africanness and Africa to accept North Africa as part of it“, he continues. 

Africa is in the artist’s blood. “African artists always have to prove themselves more than Western artists, because they are always perceived as “African” rather than simply as artists. But to become an international artist, you first have to prove yourself in the West. It’s sad, but that’s the way it is,” he says. “I’m very proud to be taking part in an African art fair, and in so doing to help Moroccan art to be recognised as African; to help break down borders and build a stronger, more united continent.” (29)

Concerning his main sources of artistic inspiration, Hassan Hajjaj said in an interview with Afrique Magazine: (30)

“People, music, food, nature and life in all its diversity. But Marrakech is my greatest inspiration, my city at heart. I’m fascinated by the architecture, the craftsmen in the medina, the traditional art, the colours of my country: everything is cinematic. To create, I draw on its cosmopolitanism, the abundant expression of music and fashion. I’m deeply influenced by the contrasts between London and Marrakech, and my work is an alliance of these cities, which have been breathing their creative energy into me for several years now.”

Engaging personality

Brimming with humour, always quick to make friends with people, Hassan Hajjaj is an engaging personality from a poor background, little aware of the very existence of the galleries and museums where he now exhibits. “In my little village in Morocco, we were very, very far removed from the art world,” he says. “But we had to do everything, make everything from scratch, because we had no money.”

When he arrived in London in his early teens in 1973, Hajjaj faced a chilling change of scenery in a city less welcoming to minorities than it is today. “We, the children of immigration, had no place to go to party, no way of wearing the clothes we dreamed of, so we created our own places, our own clothes, our own music,” recounts Hajjaj, who, having dropped out of school, was for a time a street child.

Involved in party organization – his “university“, as he calls it – Hajjaj is involved in decoration, logistics and music. As curator Michket Krifa, (31) who invited him to the Rencontres de la photographie de Bamako in 2009, writes:

At the same time, he works in the alternative fashion scene and frequents flea markets, where he hunts for and begins to recycle numerous clothing products and accessories, customizing them into new creations that he begins to sell. He founded his RAP label – an acronym for “Real Artistic Pepole” – which already laid the groundwork for his artistic universe, dominated by a mix of ethnic influences, logos and everyday objects. His first clients were mainly his childhood friends, DJs, musicians and underground scene actors.

From the 2000s onwards, it was through photography that this universe was to expand. Now more present in Marrakesh, Hassan Hajjaj set about photographing his world to, as he puts it, “share something cool about [his] culture“. The result is wide-angle, low-angle portraits inspired by magazine aesthetics, pop-art frames emblazoned with logos and brand names, using salvaged objects and forming repetitive patterns as “pop” tributes to Arabic calligraphy and Moroccan zelliges. Hajjaj doesn’t reject the reference to “pop art” that crops up time and again in articles and texts about his work: “I don’t have a problem with this label, it amuses me and I’m happy with what I do.”

Collected (and decorated) by King Mohammed VI, owner of Riad Yima in Marrakesh where stars and tourists flock and where he sells his works (from a few hundred pounds to 15,000 pounds), objects and furniture, Hassan Hajjaj moves unpretentiously between the worlds of design and art, anxious not to cut himself off from the simple world from which he comes.

And while in the end some may feel that his work lacks depth and commitment, repeating effective, decorative forms that are hardly innovative, many will find it to their liking, like Michket Krifa: (32) 

“Hassan Hajjaj’s vitality, freedom and poetry do us a world of good! The joy of his colourful universe mutes all our pain and suffering. He has the grace and subtlety to offer us a soothed version of the major issues that haunt our turbulent times.”

V&A introduced the work of Hassan Hajjaj, (33) shortlisted Jameel Prize (34) 2009, in the following words:

‘’Hassan Hajjaj‘s work is a zestful commentary on the strength of Islamic traditions in the face of external challenges. He highlights the power of image and branding but also shows how this power can be subverted. The logos of major Western brands appear on traditional Arab items, while local brands convey a nostalgic sense of place.

Le Salon (2009) is a multimedia installation, in which “the viewer is drawn into an interactive social space where furniture and everyday objects made from recycled materials reflect the colour and atmosphere of the souk”, explains Hajjaj. Exploiting the familiar international power of branding and consumerism, the artist juxtaposes the iconography of contemporary culture with classical references, aiming towards a new aesthetic.”

Moroccan pop art

Hassan Hajjaj’s work offers a complete panorama of the oeuvre of this artist, whose dual Moroccan and British culture has nurtured him. Photographs, videos and installations, as well as derived objects, furniture, carpets, decorations and clothing, testify to a colourful universe that makes him one of the pioneers of pop art in Morocco.

His work reflects also his multicultural inspiration (35) and political reflection.  Derivative objects, carpets, furniture and clothing reveal the place of design and salvage work in Hassan Hajjaj’s practice, which blends ethnic influences, everyday objects and brand logos. A deliberately kitsch universe that feeds on clichés.

The photographic series begun in 1980 by Hassan Hajjaj reveal an artistic universe split between two cultures: (36) born in 1961 in Larache, Morocco, and based in London since 1973, the artist lives and works between the two countries, two continents, two worlds, two religions and two cultures, constantly building bridges between them. (37) His large-scale, colourful compositions are as much inspired by London’s cultural and musical scenes as by his North African heritage, drawing on the codes of pop art and contemporary fashion photography while telescoping universes, styles and icons.

The humour and kitsch aesthetic of Hassan Hajjaj’s works, such as the “My Rockstars”, “Legs” and “Kesh Angels” series, only serve to reinforce the artist’s commitment. In this way, the hijacking of brand imagery serves to reflect on consumer society, in a kind of “new pop art for today”. By turning these brands into symbols reappropriated by veiled women in the “Vogue: The Arab Issue,” “Hijab, Hand painted Portraits and Handprints” series, Hassan Hajjaj also addresses the political issues of veiling and identity. (38)

On the nature and identity of his work Hassan Hajjaj said in an interview with Shannon Ayers Holden: (39)

“My photographs refer to stereotypical icons of Oriental exoticism, combined with symbols of contemporary fashion.  I then change the interpretation of these traditional Oriental designs through the very obvious overlay of recognizable western branding patterns. The frames of my photographs are an integral part of the photographic viewing experience. Through the use of modern iconography to stimulate Islamic mosaic patterns, the frames serve as both an invitation to the viewer and a colourful decorative context for the image itself.

Through my salon installations I create a vibrant playful space where brands and signage are incorporated and transformed into functional household items. The salons are interactive social spaces where furniture and everyday objects made from recycled materials reflect the colour and atmosphere of the souk.”

Art from the souk and for the souk

Influenced as much by the city’s nightclub, hip-hop and reggae scenes as by his North African heritage, Hajjaj is a versatile self-taught artist whose work includes portraits, installations, performances, fashion and interior design with furniture made from recycled objects such as Coca-Cola cans and crates.

In the late 1980s, Hajjaj began experimenting with photography, taking portraits of friends, musicians, artists and people on the streets of Marrakesh.

Hassan Hajjaj moved between several artistic worlds: photography, fashion, music, cinema and design. In 1984, he launched his own clothing and accessories brand, “R.A.P.”, short for “Real Artistic People”. He also designed the “Andy Wahloo” restaurant in Paris, whose name is taken from a replica of the Maghrebi Arabic vernacular meaning “I have nothing“, as a nod to Pop Art, but with a Middle Eastern twist.

Indeed, Hajjaj is considered to be the spearhead of a new art, nourished by popular and multicultural influences, (40) reflecting his travels between London and Marrakesh. Through portraits of the stars who inspire him, such as Keziah Jones, Rachid Taha and Hindi Zahra, he gives life to zany compositions. His art is subtly anti-establishment and denounces cultural appropriation, as in the series “Vogue: The Arab Issue”. Here, Arab women wrapped in eccentric djellabas copy poses from a Vogue shoot. It’s a way of saying that although Morocco is the location for many photo shoots, the local culture is not at all highlighted by fashion magazines. To produce these works, he makes the exotic clothes himself, using fabrics found in London markets and souks.

Hajjaj’s portraits are inspired by the photographs of great Malian masters such as Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keïta. Explosive, they feature colourful compositions rich in motifs, logos, symbols, floral designs, etc. The Warholian influence is evident everywhere, with this art of hijacking everyday products, from a simple tin can used as a frame, to a boisterous Louis Vuitton moped, like the one used in the “Kesh Angels” series, depicting veiled women riding their mopeds, looking proud, as if they wanted to question stereotypes. (41)

Talking about his art, Hassan Hajjaj says in an interview to the Antidote magazine: (42)

“Yes, as is always the case with street art, which is where I come from. Above all, I wanted to break down the stereotypes and fears surrounding the veil, which have been around for so many years now. This modern, public, pop image allows us to look at things in a different way. I also did a series of photos of women with their faces covered, on scooters. This was not a quest for a statement, but simply a reality in Morocco: everyone, of all ages, gets around on a moped, and often women in hijabs do too. I’ve added a cinematic perspective, bright colours and direct references to current pop culture to this everyday vision. These images are often slightly uncomfortable, and that’s precisely the point: to make people face up to their own preconceptions and rethink what modernity is all about.”

Hassan Hajjaj’s work is a celebration of the popular visual culture of the souk, a social space symbolizing interaction and exchange. The artist borrows from Moroccan culture, using pictorial stereotypes such as odalisques or brand images with their cult logos. He boldly combines and contrasts Eastern and Western elements to create a rich, universal universe. The care taken by Hassan Hajjaj in framing his photos is reminiscent of the degree of finish in the repetition of motifs in Islamic decorative art. (43)

His work has been included in renowned collections such as: the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (USA), the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (USA), the Institut des Cultures d’Islam in Paris (France), the Victoria and Albert Museum (UK), the Barjeel Collection (United Arab Emirates), the Brooklyn Museum (USA), the Kamel Laazar Foundation (Tunisia).

Hassan Hajjaj’s work encompasses a wide range of techniques and artistic fields, from design to furniture production, the reuse of African artifacts, Coca-Cola crates transformed into seats, road signs turned into table tops, made-to-measure clothing.

Over the following decades, while working as a designer, the artist began producing photographs and films that conveyed the complications of his cultural identity. (44) He currently lives and works between Marrakesh, Morocco and London, UK. Today, Hajjaj’s work can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Fondation Lazaar in Tunisia, among others.

Fashionistas snap up his eccentric clothes. Celebrities have their portraits taken in his Marrakesh riad. Streetwear brands clamour for his kitschy label. The almost sixty-year-old hip-hopper has invented a new form of post-colonialism, colourful and relaxed art. He drew Madonna’s portrait in Berber style, hijacked brand logos and everyday objects, and caused a sensation with a line of embroidered jackets. (45)

For XIBIT magazine the art of Hassan Hajjaj is a reinterpretation of Moroccan culture: (46)

“The various products combined in his camera’s frame are not simply decorations; they are reinterpretations of traditional Moroccan mosaic patterns and tiles based on the artist’s own perspective, with products often chosen from those produced in the model’s country and a certain sense of humor reflected in terms of the model’s personality or profession. For example, Hajjaj’s first portraits used canned chicken to characterize female models referred to in slang as “chicks,” while cans of beef were used for “beefy” male models. The latest exhibition includes works from some of the artist’s most representative photography series—such as My Rockstars, Kesh Angels, Dakka Marrakchia, and Legs— along with the video work My Rockstars Experimental II. The My Rockstars series in particular is a record of people that Hajjaj met while operating pop-up photography studios on the streets of Marrakesh, London, Paris, and Dubai for over a decade.”

The Andy Warhol of Morocco

Nicknamed the Andy Warhol (47) of Morocco, the self-taught photographer celebrates the art of recycling and creates bold pop portraits that have won over audiences around the world. After his retrospective at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in 2019, the artist went back to Paris with the “Colors of Africa” exhibition.

His voice is slow and silky, punctuated by laughter. Hassan Hajjaj, considered to be the king of Moroccan pop art, speaks with ease in the language of Shakespeare. The colourful portraits of this photographer with his singular universe have travelled the world. He has seduced the biggest collectors and won over the most prestigious institutions: the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Brooklyn Museum in New York. 

Over the past year, he has been the subject of numerous retrospectives: in 2019, his work blossomed in the monumental space of the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, to resounding success with the profession, the public and the critics, and in 2020 two retrospectives followed, in Bristol and Seoul, highlighting his works framed in tin cans – a tribute to a popular Morocco that recycles without counting the cost. (48) Hassan sets out to portray his friends and neighbours who live to the beating rhythm of the mythical ochre city of Marrakesh, while at the same time shaking up the codes of African photography – like the Malian precursors Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita. 

The artist has made his dual culture the driving force behind his work. This self-taught artist, as much a designer as a video artist or photographer, this all-round artist with a passion for world music also wears the hat of a DJ. Growing up in London, he came into contact with the British and underground art scene, assisting his designer friends by filming their fashion shows, and developing a passion for the eighth art. 

Alongside his black and white and colour photographs, he also creates furniture, carpets and clothes. The work of this unrivalled alchemist mixes and diverts aesthetic influences, logos and everyday objects, such as the traditional djellaba, the inescapable babouches or the eternal teapot berrad. His favourite work, “Kesh Angels,” a series of photos of women dressed in djellabas and Louis Vuitton babouches on motorbikes, surrounded by a frame of everyday consumer products. But don’t ask him which portrait he prefers: “They’re all my children, I can’t choose,” he says without hesitation. 

Claiming his African identity from the outset, he took part in the Paris exhibition “Colors of Africa”, at 193 Gallery, alongside four other photographers from French- and English-speaking Africa: the Kenyan Thandiwe Muriu, the Burkinabe Nyaba Ouedraogo, the Ghanaian Derrick Ofusu Boateng and the Nigerian Ebuka Michael. 

Hassan Hajjaj takes Paris by storm

He exhibited his work at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP), as well as, at the invitation of the RATP, some 30 images in the Paris metro. A mix of East and West that shakes up the often-watertight categorizations of art, fashion and design.

Succeeding JR in autumn 2018, Hassan Hajjaj had carte blanche at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, where he took over the entire space, transforming it into a cheerful bazaar, not unlike his studio-riad in Marrakesh, where he welcomes his friends from the Moroccan fashion and music scene.

Photographer, designer, performer, musician, since his debut in 1992 he has been desacralising the traditional images of his country, from babouches to djellabas and the veil, which he adorns in flashy colours. An example is his series of portraits of veiled women on mopeds, begun in 1998, a nod to the marvellous black-and-white shots by Malian photographer Malick Sidibé. His use of recycled plastic carpets as backdrops for his photos, and the small tin cans adorning their frames, have made him the new “Andy Warhol of Marrakesh“.

For the third biennial of photographers from the Arab world, new MEP director Simon Baker gave Hassan Hajjaj carte blanche. Hajjaj made the premises his own, transforming the MEP in the spirit of his Marrakesh riad. 

Benches made from plastic soda crates covered with fabric cushions or recycled canvas, paint cans transformed into stools. The artist recovers and accumulates everyday objects, playing with clichés and hijacking them. A road sign is used as a table, tin cans become chandeliers and pastel-blue blankets with large flowers are transformed into djellabas.

For his first retrospective in France, Hassan Hajjaj presented 300 photos. It is only on the top floor that you’ll find shots of some of the stars who have passed through his Marrakesh or London studios. You won’t see Madona, transformed into a Berber beauty, or tennis player Maria Sharapova in traditional dress. The photos chosen by the artist are those that represent Morocco in his eyes. He addresses young people, women and men like himself of Arab or Moroccan origin, who can identify with them.

Simon Baker recalls that he was elected to head the Maison Européenne de la Photographie with an editorial line focused on diversity, in every sense of the word: male/female diversity, sexuality diversity (LGBT), geographical diversity, emerging and more established artists. He explains: (49)

“For me, Hassan embodies this diversity: he’s a man of Moroccan origin, a Berber, who grew up in London in a community neighbourhood. He comes from a very modest family and is self-taught. He’s not a privileged person who’s had all the opportunities of a good art school. For me, Hassan is an alchemist who, with very modest means, creates marvellous works with great joy. He also presents a vision of Morocco that is quite positive, that talks a lot about youth and women, and that gives a vision of North Africa that is not typical.”

The inspiration of Hajjaj comes from the markets, the souks, where life happens. In his London studio-boutique, you’ll find all the objects of his universe: mats, cushions, tables, babouches… Everything is piled up in structured disorder. “Some artists need space, to be alone, I’m the opposite, I need noise, people, smells, dust, which goes with my work,” explains Hassan. (50) 

His assistant Jenny, point out: (51)

Hassan works intuitively. He works best when he has a framework, and before the shoot, he draws little sketches, while leaving plenty of room for improvisation. It’s very collaborative, very dynamic, everyone is included, even people passing by.”

Explosion of patterns and colours

Ready for an explosion of patterns and colours? The psychedelic world of Anglo-Moroccan photographer Hassan Hajjaj, who has lived in London since 1973, is saturated with polka dots, stripes and flowers in strident hues, and is taking over every space at the MEP as part of a major carte blanche exhibition. Dressed in a patchwork of patterns, a woman sits enthroned on Pepsi crates against a backdrop of oriental carpets… framed by rows of tins, Andy Warhol style! Elsewhere, polka-dot socks are paired with leopard caftans, slippers flirt with soda cans, and veils and turbans are combined with crazy sunglasses or a lascivious pose.

Through their conquering attitudes and daring dress, friends of the artist or strangers they meet in the street proudly assert their identity, transformed into icons by the shimmering frames. The world of the great Malian studio photographers and Omar Victor Diop, their Senegalese heir, is not far away. From portrait to portrait, one savours the excesses of a form of Moroccan pop art, tinged with London eccentricity. An explosive mix of East and West, fashion and photography… with a healthy dose of humour and kitsch!

The multidisciplinary artist Hassan Hajjaj deconstructs clichés  about Morocco with the best weapon of all: humour. Gone is the image of a country suffocated by age-old traditions and overtaken by the West. 

The 58-year-old artist draws on the different disciplines that make up his art – fashion, design, photography and video – to create new representations that are much more positive and complex. While the subject matter is eminently political, the form – itself – is great fun! Hassan Hajjaj invites us to think, while having fun.

His work is an unlikely mix of kitsch, pop art, urban culture, recycling and haute couture. The most impressive works are large, colourful compositions that mix photographs, wallpaper and tins inserted into the frames (thanks, Andy!).

We see Moroccan women, often veiled – the artist questions the way we look at this piece of cloth – Gnawas riding mopeds and celebrities wearing the artist’s eccentric outfits. JR, Hindi Zahra, Mos Def, Keziah Jones and many others have played the game.

The colourful portraits are a nod to the great African masters of the genre – Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita – as well as to the fashion industry, whose codes the artist ridicules. With glee, he hijacks the logos of luxury brands and makes his characters take the arrogant pauses of models.

By multiplying references to Africa and the West, Hassan Hajjaj builds bridges between these two worlds. The man who left Morocco to settle in London in 1973 is a pure product of multiculturalism, the richness of which he praises in his art.

Hassan Hajjaj has succeeded in creating a world that is deeply rooted in Moroccan imagery, borrowing elements from the everyday, the banal, the popular and even the kitsch. He mixes traditional genres, photography, the urban landscape, design and the ready-made to produce colourful, deceptively exotic renderings that are always borrowed from reality.

His work has a rare capacity for attraction, in which the artist highlights the ferment of the Moroccan cultural scene. Hassan Hajjaj builds his gallery of favourite artists and cultural agitators. It’s a world where visual artists, musicians, singers, designers and film-makers mingle. The result is an ebullient mix of arts and cultures, seen through the highly colourful prism of Hassan Hajjaj. In short, the artist invites us to get to know and admire his Moroccan stars.

Hassan Hajjaj’s work crystallises “the past and the contemporary era, the wounds of the East and the hegemony of the West, the discrepancies of pop art and the prose of fashion street, popular imagery and glittering luxury“, explains academic and art critic Youssef Wahboun. (53) Through this cultural fusion that the artist defends, we see his desire to deny the harmful effects of globalisation (54) and the cultural standardisation (55) that it brings about. In “My Maroc Stars,” Hajjaj claims that Moroccan artists have the right to overturn North/South relations, to aspire to international success, and through them he draws the portrait of a Morocco stretched towards a new life, impatient to tear itself away from its whiffs of uncertainty, enraged to break the chrysalis of I don’t know what expectation.

XIBT Magazine introduces the work of Hajjaj at Barakat Contemporary solo exhibition of the artist, A “Taste of Things to Come,” from August 5 to September 27, 2020, in the following way: (56)

“Hajjaj’s work reflects the powerful, rhythmic colors, patterns, and unique poses of North Africa. The artist reveals the hybridity of contemporary culture by creating unique frames that incorporate bottles, cans, toys, recycled tires, and matchboxes. This is not merely decorative, but a reinterpretation of Morocco’s traditional mosaic patterns and tiles from Hajjaj’s point of view, revealing the complexities of contemporary culture. Hajjaj’s body of work is the result of his experiences in multicultural fields of art including street music, fashion and interior design, naturally encountered while living in huge, cosmopolitan London in the 1970s and 1980s, together with North Africa’s intense visual elements. Hajjaj’s work, with its rebellious and creative spirit, will guide us to a vibrant and playful world.”

Art in the service of peace, dialogue and living together

Art is undoubtedly a peace-making tool of great importance to all humankind. Discovering and understanding our emotions leads to self-acceptance, which is an essential step towards accepting others. It is also a moment of beauty, during which we rediscover a taste for beautiful things and immerse ourselves in them to get away from our everyday lives. These periods of respite are necessary to rebuild dignity. Only then can a real dialogue be established with others, neighbours and strangers alike.

The peace process is a complex and often elusive phenomenon. (57) It is first and foremost a matter for political and military leaders. A peace treaty is a signature. But for peace to take hold over the long term, reconciliation is a prerequisite. And there can be no reconciliation without restored dignity, for everyone. This is where art can play a part in the process. There are peace treaties that end in nothing but a new war…

Two wars in less than 35 years – in  1914 and 1939. And why? The first war and France’s loss of Alsace-Lorraine led to a feeling of frustration among the French, which contributed to the failure of pacifism and the country’s entry into the First World War. The 14-18 war ended in victory for the Allies and humiliation for Germany at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Even though there was peace in Europe, there could be no reconciliation.

The first humiliation led to a second, and that led to the consequences we all know about: the Second World War. After 1945, it took two men to give each people back a sense of dignity: Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. Indignity is not only the lot of the vanquished. It is also the lot of the victor who has chosen to perpetrate unspeakable acts in order to win.

Artists have often used works of art to express emotions and thus spark a public dialogue on contemporary challenges. (58) At the same time, it has been suggested that collaborative artistic creation can be used in environmental deliberation processes, where stakeholders discuss contentious issues such as the effects of flooding. Political actors have rarely been deeply involved in these processes. Recent research has shown that collaborative art can be used to develop relationships between various actors, including political actors, in deliberative processes, by creating artworks to bring concerns into the public domain.

Mona Trudel, Adriana de Oliveira and Élyse Mathieu highlight the importance of art for social change and art for social reconstruction. In this sense we can say that the art advocated by Hassan Hajjaj proceeds with social reconstruction by helping people to reconcile with their culture and embrace their identity willingly: (59)

“The concepts of ‘interculturalism’ and ‘multiculturalism’, which have had a major influence on education in general, are reflected in a multitude of approaches and definitions that have changed over time (Potvin and Larochelle-Audet, 2003). For example, intercultural and multicultural education now incorporates notions of ‘anti-racist education, education for democratic citizenship and inclusive education’ (Potvin and Larochelle-Audet, 2016, p. 114). This change is also noticeable in multicultural arts education, whose influence on our discipline is undeniable, where the focus is on art for social change (Anderson, Gussak, Hallmark and Paul, 2010; Bell and Desai, 2014) and art for social reconstruction (Cahan and Kocur, 2011). According to this perspective arts education should not be reduced to disciplinary considerations alone, but should include issues related to power, history and students’ personal identity.”

Art is a universal means of communication. It’s an opening, an opportunity for dialogue, a bridge between different geographical areas, different cultures and different people. Hassan Hajjaj, through his artistic unselfish creations tears down walls of separation and builds bridges of cooperation and living together. He demystifies chic brand names and creates a world accessible to all where colours explode to create moments of joy and karma for everyone irrespective of their culture, colour or creed. He is an artist of all people, an artist of peace and living together.

To communicate through art, you first have to listen to the artists and their creations. In other words, you have to support their projects by taking on challenges and joining in great adventures.

At first glance, many artistic transfers appear to be asymmetrical. But this impression is often misleading. For example, the export of oil painting and mathematical perspective to China was counterbalanced by a counter-transfer of Chinese porcelain art (including its themes and motifs) to Europe. Similarly, the introduction of Western aesthetics to Japan from the Meiji era onwards was accompanied by a number of counter-transfers: the aesthetics of Japanese prints had a strong influence on Impressionism; Noh and Kabuki theatre was adapted for European theatre by W. B. Yeats, Stanislav K. K. and others; and the architecture of Japanese imperial residences played a major role in the emergence of modernist concepts of architectural space (Bruno Taut, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier).

Art to shatter stereotypes and strengthen multiculturalism

Our conception of the African continent is still largely influenced by the images we see on television every day, and which are conveyed by appeals for donations from NGOs.

The image sketched out is certainly often romantic or exotic. But I think it is far more important that human beings generally have difficulty developing a personal, considered image of things they have not experienced. Added to this, in the case of Africa, is the centuries-old history of colonisation and decades of biased reporting that transmits the same stereotypes over and over again: poverty, war, famine, etc. We seem to like having our ideas confirmed rather than challenged.

Can art really help us to combat stereotypes?  Stereotypes are not immediately eliminated, but they can at least be challenged and, in the best case, broken through the images on display. Hassan Hajjaj does just that through his zany but highly expressive and representative art of the wretched and marginalised.

Photography is an art form that is very familiar to us, given our daily lives marked by Instagram and other media. This intimate relationship is exploited in the large-format photographs in the exhibitions. This creates a confrontation with art, but on a familiar, emotional level. Stereotypes cannot be deconstructed instantly, but we can at least challenge them through the images on display and, in the best-case scenario, break them.

Our world is currently marked by globalisation. Often perceived negatively as acculturating, exchanges, sometimes in the form of transfers, can also be considered as enrichment. This form of universalisation already existed if we refer to colonial America, where the European model was transposed from a social, political, and economic point of view onto the American continent.

Art history is a cornucopia of knowledge and beauty. Not only does it identify canonical objects to be venerated, or recount the lives of great artists and the dynamics of their affinities, it can also answer important questions and explain why artistic creation is a primordial and resilient human activity, or how it fits into the larger story. (60)

He is known as the “king of Moroccan pop art”.  Knowing how to see is one of Hassan Hajjaj’s great strengths, perhaps his most important one. A new spirit, a movement of ideas that grows ever more active and inventive. Entirely self-taught, Hassan Hajjaj is considered to be one of the most prominent artists on the international scene. The extreme delicacy of his contours and modelling is an integral part of his art. His rendering constantly reflects an accent, a vibration, a joy, a secret; a feeling, an emotion, a silhouette, an expression, an attitude, characterising an entire race or an unprecedented era. 

Hassan Hajjaj takes his audience off the beaten track, and backwards. His work is inspired by his North African heritage, the London hip-hop and reggae music scenes he grew up with, and the many creative relationships he has forged with musicians, artists, designers, performers and writers on his various travels.  

His projects celebrate the intertwining of multiple facets of contemporary culture and tradition while questioning stereotypical notions of Morocco and North Africa, subverting the Western “norm” by using familiar materials and motifs in unexpected – often renewed – ways. 

For Hajjaj, cultures are destined not to fight each other, but to complement each other, (61) for one of his aims has been to show how closely all the variations of art are interwoven, how the various tendencies that have been proposed on the principles of beauty are enemies only in appearance, and are separated only by the arbitrary limits they are subject to, but remain composed of intimately linked parts that all presuppose each other, and all relate to the same end. (62)  

Hassan Hajjaj sacrifices indiscreet, gossipy exactitude about detail in favour of an aesthetic intuition where the eyes and the heart go, and dwells at length and complacently on the colours, the lively lines, the facts extraneous to the cause. Surely a sure hand and a sure eye, but also a sure soul and an original initiative.  

In 2016, Hassan Hajjaj took part in the exhibition ‘Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity’ organised by Ekow Eshun for the Photographers’ Gallery. Currently, his designs and collections “Vogue,” “The Arab Issue” and “My rockstars” are on show in New York.

You can learn a lot about a country by looking at its works of art, and even more by analysing them. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways of gauging a society, seeing how inventive, wealthy, industrious, caring, advanced, tolerant, progressive and inclusive it is. We can measure the extent of our freedom and confidence by examining some of the works we have produced. And we can gauge our maturity and our ability to live together by measuring the transparency with which our artists explore our shared history.

Conclusion: Moroccan Pop iconography

Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj is renowned for his captivating, vibrant works that fuse contemporary art, fashion and cultural identity. Hajjaj’s diverse background greatly influences his art, which reflects a fusion of North African tradition and Western popular culture.

Inspired by the vibrant street culture of London and his native Morocco, he developed a keen interest in photography and design. His work invites viewers to question stereotypes, celebrate diversity and embrace the beauty of all cultures. He brings together different worlds and aesthetics, creating a visual language that speaks to the interconnectedness of our modern societies. Christina Lanzl, in this respect, argues that interconnectedness is the key to understanding public art: (63)

“Many of us will readily name a favorite work of art in a treasured public place, a priceless cultural asset. Similarly, we can probably point to the destruction of such works by neglect, human or institutional failure, war, or extreme events. To put a finger on why certain outdoor works of art are so important or to provide a clear value can already be more challenging.

If anything, one can point to the unique, irreplaceable quality of the treasured cultural asset. If anything, the qualifier ‘priceless’ may be the only accurate valuation of something that is of high quality and unique.”  

Hajjaj’s work has been exhibited worldwide, and his photographs, installations and mixed media pieces have been critically acclaimed for their boldness and innovation. His art not only captures the essence of contemporary culture, but also serves as a powerful social commentary on issues of race, identity and globalisation.

In perhaps his best-known series, “Kesh Angels”, Hajjaj captures the unique street culture of young female bikers in Marrakesh. Intended to confound Western perceptions of Arab society, Hajjaj uses the language of fashion photography to produce portraits of characters dressed in colourful North African costumes. Set in frames of consumer products, including Coca-Cola and Louis Vuitton, the artist’s images recontextualize both art photography and popular culture. 

In the early 2000s, art diviners began to take an interest in artists from the Arab world. And they found him. Supported by Rose Issa Projects and The Third Line galleries, Hassan Hajjaj began to conquer London and Dubai. In 2016, his Gnawa Bombs, reversible silk jackets adorned on one side with traditional embroidery and on the other with portraits, launched with designer Amine Bendriouich, caused a sensation at Colette in Paris. The following year, he photographed actor Will Smith and signed the cover of New York Magazine with rapper Cardi B. Since then, he has immortalized Madonna, dressed as a Berber beauty, Jessica Alba and Gad Elmaleh. (64)

In 2009, Hajjaj was shortlisted for the Victoria & Albert Museum’s Jameel Prize for Islamic Art. His solo exhibitions have taken place at The Third Line gallery in Dubai, Rose Issa Projects gallery in London and the Freies Museum in Berlin. He takes part in group shows at events such as the Marrakech Biennial, Edge of Arabia in London, Photoquai in Paris and Re-orientations at Rose Issa Projects, among others. His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Farjam Collection in Dubai, the Institut des Cultures d’Islam in Paris, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation in Tunisia, the Virginia State Museum of Fine Arts and many more.

The folk art of Hassan Hajjaj is priceless but unfortunately in Morocco it is known only by the lucky few. The Ministry of Culture ought to disseminate this great art through galleries and public exhibitions and the Ministry of Education through school curricula to make this national icon known throughout Morocco, and I am sure people of all social classes will readily identify with his work because they will see in it part of their identity and daily life concerns. 


2007: Noss Noss, The Third Line, Dubai (solo).

2007: Christies Gallery, Dubai, UAE.

2007: Social system, Newlyn art gallery and the exchange, Marrakech to Penzance.

2006: Riad Yima opening in Marrakech, Morocco. (solo).

2005: Arabic Film Posters @ Dar Sharfia, Markkesh, Morocco. (solo).

2005: Fashion in Montion, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK. (solo).

2005: Africa Show, Royal Festival Hall, London, UK. (solo).

2005: Africa Remix, Hayward Gallery, London, UK. (solo).

2005: “Sounds Africa” Part of African Year Installation, Starbucks in Camden, London, UK.

2005: Contemporary African Visual Arts’, Painting & furniture. British Museum, London, UK.

2004: “Black British Style”, clothing from 1950s tilll now, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, UK.

2004: “Graffix from The Souk”, Artisania, Rabat, Salé, Morocco.

2003: “Graffix from The Souk”, Part of Moroccan Cultural Week in Covent Garden, London, UK.

2003: “Graffix from The Souk”, as part of the 5th Festival of cultural diversity, Institute Francais, London (UK). (solo).

2003: “Graffix from The Souk” gone interior design, Andy Wahloo Bar, Paris, France. (solo).

2002: “Graffix from The Souk”, Taros, Essaouira, Morocco. (solo).

2001: “Graffix from The Souk”, Apart Gallery, Portobello, London, UK. (solo).

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on X:@Ayurinu


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  58.  Trudel, M., de Oliveira, A. & Mathieu, É. (2018). L’apport de l’art actuel au dialogue interculturel : proposition d’une approche d’appréciation en classe d’arts plastiques. Éducation et francophonie, 46(2), 109–124. 
  59. Ibid
  60.  Al-Thamari, F.; Al-Zadjali, Z. & Al-Mamari, B. (2020). Multiculturalism and Cultural Identity in Art Production. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 8, 159-173. Retrieved from 
  61.  Haar, G., & Busuttil, J. (eds.). (2005). Bridge or Barrier: Religion, Violence and Visions for Peace. Boston: Brill, Leiden.
  62.  Cullen, F. (1996). Art International: Confronting Multiculturalism. Circa, 75, 20-24. 
  63. Lanzl, Christina. (2012, May 15). Op. cit.
  64.  Bindé, Joséphine. (2019, September 11). Le Maroc pop d’Hassan Hajjaj. Beaux-Arts. Retrieved from 

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