You’ve probably never seen a biker gang quite like this. In photographer Hassan Hajjaj’s latest series, “Kesh Angels,” the lady motorcyclists of Marrakesh, Morocco wear polka-dot abaya and Nike-branded djellaba, posing on their bikes against brightly-painted walls. The juxtaposition of traditional Islamic dress with biker-tough posturing and Western branding upends stereotypes of Muslim women as anti-modern and ultra-conservative. They have a superhero quality on these motorcycles, mugging and posing like urban Power Rangers.
The 53-year-old Hajjaj was born in Marrakesh but grew up in London, where he was obsessed with clubbing, hip-hop, and reggae, influences reflected in the eye-popping color schemes of these photographs. The models are his friends, and he designs their outfits himself, using knock-off brand-name fabrics he buys at London and Marrakesh markets.
Hajjaj taught himself photography in the 1980s, after working as a D.J., interior designer, and a promoter. His forays into interior design included furniture he built from recycled objects in North Africa, like Coca-Cola crate stools or lamps made from old tin cans. The artist still turns trash into treasure: the frames for his biker photographs are made from everyday objects, like soda cans, boxes of chicken stock, and Legos printed with Arabic letters.
Marrakesh is a city overrun with motorcycles, and female bikers are as common as male. Motorcycling is seen as a convenient form of transportation. Not so in the States, where being a “biker chick” still has a certain taboo. “Hajjaj’s approach is to toy with the perceptions of Arabic culture and the relationship between East and West, recasting iconic images and allowing shafts of 21st-century light to reenergize the encounter,” art critic Kelly Carmichael once wrote about the artist.
Kesh Angels is on view now at Taymour Grahne Gallery in New York until March 7th.