Hassan Hajjaj: VOGUE, The Arab Issue

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Hassan Hajjaj VOGUE, The Arab Issue
March 19th – November 7th, 2021

On a cloudy Wednesday, I was invited to see an amazing photography exhibition at Fotografiska in Manhattan. It is the artist’s, Hassan Hajjaj, first solo show at the museum. I was immediately taken aback by Hajjaj’s works once the elevator opened to a dark room lit with his photos. The timing for the exhibition perfectly intertwined with the world we are under right now. We are wearing face coverings now like Muslim women do in a way, though it is to “limit” the virus form spreading.

Hassan Hajjaj Gretchen, Designer Hijabs series, 2012/1433
Gretchen, Designer Hijabs series, 2012/1433

However, I can’t help but feel that we are also being  “limited” in some ways. On top of that, the rising number of Asian hate crimes have the Asian community, myself included, feeling like we are walking on ice in the streets of America. The parallel between the exhibition and real life created a huge contrast for me personally, that in the world of accepting “inclusivity”, we are still fighting for ourselves one way or the other.

Hassan Hajjaj Naabz Chanel: 2012
Naabz Chanel: 2012

Vibrant portraiture set inside a world of bold colors, varied textures, and frenzied patterns commands attention in VOGUE, The Arab Issue. Hassan Hajjaj’s photography challenges the viewer through an eclectic confrontation of styles, and invites them to re-examine cultural stereotypes and cliches. Alive on Fotografiska New York’s third floor, this immersive exhibition brings together five important series developed over the past three decades. Hassan Hajjaj is a British-Moroccan photographer and multidisciplinary artist with a diverse practice including portraiture, installation, performance, fashion and furniture design. He is entirely self-taught and embraces a melting pot of influences in his work – from popular culture and street style to hip-hop and haute couture.

Hassan Hajjaj Untitled (D4A), 2000/1421
Untitled (D4A), 2000/1421

VOGUE, The Arab Issue, was inspired in the 1990s while Hajjaj was assisting his stylist friend on a fashion shoot in Marrakech. He says — I sat there and realized all these people were from Europe – stylists, photographers, fashion designers, makeup artists – using Morocco simply as a backdrop, which frustrated me but also made me think. Rather  than just using the country as the prop, I wanted to make it look grand. I wanted to take the Moroccan clothes and the people and shoot them in this celebratory way.

Hassan Hajjaj White Dotted Stance Vogue The Arab Issue series
White Dotted Stance, Vogue: The Arab Issue series, 2002/1423

For his shoot, he asked local women to pose wearing his creations – traditional Moroccan djellabas, hijabs, caftans and babouches covered with candy-colored polka dots, leopard prints or counterfeit brand logos – in the streets of the Medina, often parodying the poses typical of Western models. The photographs are dated with two different years, one from the Western calendar (such as 2000), followed by one from the Islamic calendar (1421). The title VOGUE, The Arab Issue evokes a double meaning — the word “issue” refers not only to a copy of the monthly magazine, but also to an important topic or problem for debate or discussion, one he also probes in his video Naabz and the series Hijabs and Handpainted Portraits.

This exhibition is presented in collaboration with Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.

Hassan Hajjaj VOGUE, The Arab Issue opens on the 19th March until the 7th November, 2021 at Fotografiska


©2021 Hassan Hajjaj. Courtesy of the Artist and M.E.P. Paris/France