Online we are free and we are able to cross borders. We can take on any nationality, gender or profession. All is possible and all is one. We are able to cross borders and travel wherever we want, but in the old brick and mortar economy we have borders. In this real world we have to pass security checks and passport controls. There are cultural identities and there is a “them and us.”
Having to pass three times in a few hours these control posts on my way to Morocco I realized how outdated this has become.
The city of Marrakesh is expanding and in the short drive from the airport to the hotel, I see new living quarters rising like mushrooms with western billboards advertising Movenpick, Hard Rock Café and MacDonalds. This is the new wealth that has come to Morocco. Here is where the young and rich want to live. However, I’m on my way to the Expo Artisan and will enter the heart of the Medina to meet traditional craftspeople.
It is in these tangled alleys, away from the buzz of the crowded shopping areas, deep down in the souk that I discover Riad Yima. The teahouse and gallery of Moroccan born and London resident Hassan Hajjaj.
At the age of 14 Hassan left Morocco with his family for London. The city felt cold and wet and he missed Morocco during his first years in the United Kingdom. Without a formal education, he started a shop in London were he sold next to his favorite designers his own designs under the label RAP. Later, a photographer friend taught him photography, and Hassan took eclectic fashion portraits of Moroccans wearing his own designed Gucci and Vuitton veils and slippers. His work is a way to express himself, but also a way to give voice and image to his Moroccan friends living in and out of Morocco. In between two world and different cultures. He mingles cultural identities like his clothes. He wears jeans in London and a djellaba in Morocco, but might as well turn this around.
Hassan plays with luxury brands. He teases his audience, and through his photographs and designs he creates confusion by fusion. It all started with fashion and accessories giving the traditional Moroccan babouches (slippers) Louis Vuitton prints. Soon he made chairs, lamps and tables from recycled materials. When his gallery Riad Yima opened in Marrakesh, Jean Paul Gaultier was one of his first clients. Hassan’s designs and artworks play with the idea of identity. Switching identities, blending identities, creating new identities by combining numerous elements.
In his work there are no borders. He boldly uses iconic brand graphics and combines them with iconic Moroccan products. Blending icons and creating a new language and visual combinations that are more then interesting. It is boldly done, with skilled craftspeople, there is nothing to hide, no sophistication. He is an autodidact who learned all he needed from doing. He has a strong visual language with a good sense of humor and a global eye for branding. He is been called the Moroccan Andy Warhol, which might be due to his designs for the Parisian bar/restaurant Andy Wahloo. The name is slang for ‘I have nothing’ a way of living he endorses, while at the same time it is a tribute to Andy Warhol.
He is a global artist, artisan, designer, photographer and traveler living and working beyond borders. No country or culture to call his own, no job title to describe his doings, no product he cannot transform. His shop in the Medina in Marrakesh is what a new shop should be: gallery, installation, unique, a piece of art, a place to meet people and drink something and, most of all, a place to get inspired. Beyond borders. Hassan Hajjaj is the new homo-sapien.
For more information, please visit www.riadyima.com.