Portfolio: Hassan Hajjaj photographs the female bikers of Marrakesh


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The Independent Culture

Driving in Marrakesh is not recommended, due, not least, to "almost constant traffic jams of trucks, cars, clueless pedestrians and stubborn donkeys", according to one travel guide. It's "an extreme sport", says another, "with scooters zooming from all sides and roundabouts the meek may never escape". But, ah, those daredevil scooters and the people who ride them…

Marrakesh is a city, Hassan Hajjaj explains, "where all people – from kids to old men, young girls to old women – use bikes daily due to the city's layout".

Hajjaj left Morocco at the age of 13 for London, where he found work variously as a DJ, promoter, stylist and designer, until, in his twenties, he returned to his native land to assist on a fashion shoot – and became frustrated that his country was being used merely as a backdrop for Western models and clothing. He determined then to make Morocco the subject of his photography – and to upend stereotypes in the process.

"Kesh Angels", a project he began after moving to the city in the early 1990s, does exactly that. Subverting preconceived notions of Arab women, the series is a tribute to the young, care-free, independent biker girls of Marrakesh, who wear apparently traditional garb that is as defiantly modern (from the Pop Art brights to Nike logos) as the borders that Hajjaj has created for the work.

"I build the frames using objects I find in markets," he explains. "Cans of Fanta, tins or boxes of chicken stock… I wanted to use the repetition of the labels in a slightly humorous context, relating to something happening in the photographs, but I also wanted to create repetitive patterns to evoke the mosaics of Morocco in a modern context."

The ancient mixed with a modern attitude – much like the appeal of Marrakesh itself.

'Kesh Angels' is at Taymour Grahne Gallery, New York (taymourgrahne.com), to 7 March