Rockin’ The Casbah And Beyond
by J. Fatima Martins
With great rhythm and swanky style, photographer-filmmaker-designer Hassan Hajjaj brings his inclusive visual language to the Worcester Art Museum (WAM) this November. His bombastic site-specific exhibition, “My Rock Stars,” is a music video installation presented in dialogue with photographic portraits of featured musicians and performers.
Full disclosure: While I did listen to examples of Gnawa (a beautiful traditional North African musical style rooted in the history of slavery and featured in the installation) in order to deconstruct Hajjaj’s art for this review, I couldn’t stop thinking about “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash (1982), which to me seemed to fit the subversiveness of the exhibition: “But the Bedouin they brought out the electric camel drum, The local guitar picker got his guitar-picking thumb, As soon as the Shareef had cleared the square, They began to wail…”
Hajjaj’s style, grounded in the practice of community collaboration, is a European-African-Arabic blend referencing deep transnational ancestral cultural traditions and history. His installation spotlights the power of performance and musical theatre as a form of free communication and commodity. Because he transforms the mundane and unknown into celebrity, he is considered the “Andy Warhol of Marrakech.”
Video and photographs are displayed within a unique room designed by the artist to be an immersive environment achieving the dynamic aesthetics (layers of bold color, shapes, pattern and sound) of an international bazaar, recreating the interior space of a Moroccan souq. The walls of Hajjaj’s room are wallpapered in motif patterns derived from the shapes of common goods, and a special display area was constructed to hold grocery store items. The creation of this kitschy-pop environment was done in collaboration with WAM’s curatorial, education and public engagement staff, who went shopping at local international markets in Worcester to gather the necessary materials.