Morocco’s Most Beloved Contemporary Artist
Hassan Hajjaj has been shown in some of the most respected art galleries and museums in the world, while celebrities as diverse as Madonna, Cardi B and Will Smith have clamoured to sit for him. But his first love remains the everyday ‘heroes’ of the city – from friends and neighbours to gnaoua musicians and the henna artists of the Djemaa el Fna. His most recent series, ‘My Rock Stars’ is an ongoing celebration of these people and their craftsmanship, and the street his greatest inspiration.
EF: How did your career start?
TEG: I started taking pictures in London in 1989, but at that time it was just for me. When I returned to Marrakech for the first time in years in 1995, I remember thinking I’d probably never go there again, but something about the place kept calling me back. I didn’t want to be someone that came just to take, I wanted to be a part of the city, its life and its people, so when I acquired Riad Yima it was serendipity – somewhere to work and somewhere to be at home.”
EF: What inspired you to create Riad Yima?
I loved the organised chaos of the Marrakech Medina and I began to understand the attraction of the city: its history, the new and the old, the food and the smells, the colour, the music, the lighting. I got off on the good, the bad and the ugly, but on a deeper level it was always about the people. They made me very welcome, and as an artist the fact that I could find anything, or make anything, was a sort of ah-ha moment. I felt a very deep need to be part of protecting that.”
EF: How did your work evolve?
In this traditional community I found an outlet for design that extended beyond the camera to pieces of clothing, furniture and lanterns. I started to learn from the artisans in the medina, and it all flowed very naturally. I wanted merge traditional Moroccan craftsmanship with local and western branding – babouche made from flour sacks, stools crafted from old Coca-Cola crates, lanterns fashioned from sardine cans – and it has worked really well. Now I have a tailor, a carpenter, someone who does metal work, somebody who does lamps, and somebody who does slippers to help with the collection. When I have an idea, I go and speak to them and from there we work together until we get it right.”
Hassan Hajjaj’s photography and product design is available for sale at Riad Yima