Hassan Hajjaj’s upcoming show at the Ford Theatres is a return, in some ways, to his roots. Born in Morocco, Hassan is a renowned contemporary artist who has exhibited locally at LACMA and internationally. Best known for his photography, printed fabrics, and films, he started out as a music promoter in London, where he moved to live with his father when he was 13. “I used to promote and create lots of parties and within that, I found a space and re-decorated it, inviting people, putting DJs on,” he recalls. It was here that he began developing his style, eventually founding London’s cult streetwear brand R.A.P.
One of Hassan’s early photographs, taken in the early ‘90s, was purchased by Italian singer Pino Daniele for use as his album cover. “He asked me to do 150 prints of the cover to sign, and I decided to give this a go and see what I had inside me,” Hassan remembers.
Hassan’s best-known work floods the senses with colors and textures, juxtaposing posed figures wearing vibrant North African textiles with iconic consumer products, from Coca-Cola to Louis Vuitton, which led him to be dubbed the “Andy Warhol of Marrakesh.” The effect is to show off traditional North African prints and apparel, from hijabs to the fez, in a context where they are celebrated as undeniably modern and effortlessly cool, while simultaneously creating a commentary on the influences of global capitalism and branding on culture.
In My Rockstars Experimental - Live, Hassan will bring this visual flare to a live performance format. Hassan will not be onstage himself - rather, true to his work as a portrait photographer and filmmaker, he will curate the playing musicians and style them, as well as the stage, creating a sumptuous visual experience to match the eclectic soundscape.
My Rockstars Experimental is a follow-up to a video installation of the same name (previously on display in Los Angeles at LACMA), with nine separately filmed performances by international musicians who Hassan identifies and relates to as his “rockstars.” For the Ford show, the live performances range from Afrikan Boy, a London Nigerian grime MC, to African jazz-folk-soul singer-songwriter Bumi, to LA-based Syrian American spoken word poet Omar Offendum.
For Hassan, the staggering variety of styles and cultures is both medium and message. “In Morocco, they are not really scared of clashing colors,” Hajjaj says. “So it’s about clashing, and when I do the work, obviously, I clash the colors, but I don’t want to spend too long thinking about it and analyzing it. If it works, it works, you know?”
The clashes he’s talking about go beyond color. Hassan’s art depicts a society where the boundaries of cultural identity, especially his interlocking African, Arab and Western identities, are constantly remixed and blurred. In Hassan’s work as in his life, now and then, these various cultures and identities live side by side.