• September 2, 2014

My Rock Stars Experimental: Hassan Hajjaj Creates a Global Stage

Jenna Turner

“He’s very international, I think, in how he draws in different strands but creates something that is unique.”

I am speaking with Dr. Linda Komaroff, Curator and Department Head of the Art of the Middle East Department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, about My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1, a video installation by Moroccan artist and photographer Hassan Hajjaj. Komaroff has brought more than two-hundred works of contemporary Middle Eastern art to LACMA, making it one of, if not the largest collection of this type of art in the United States. My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1 is one of her latest acquisitions, and I’m curious to find out what sparked her interest.

Picture of two musicians in a group called Poetic Pilgrimage, dressed in colorful clothes standing in front of a yellow patterned backdrop
Muneera Rashida and Sukina Abdul Noor of Poetic Pilgrimage
Picture of a seated musician playing the drum in front of a pink and blue textured background
Helen Parker-Jayne Isibor of The Venus Bushfires

“It just has a certain energy to it. He manages to capture the intensity of the colors of North Africa, even when he’s not working in North Africa. This video, I believe, was all shot in London, but it has the same kind of high, exaggerated colors.”

The work itself is a three-channel video which displays nine separately filmed performances by people Hajjaj knows and admires, his own “rock stars.” The performers pose against brightly colored backgrounds dressed in traditional fabrics mixed with contemporary flare. Komaroff explains that the performers are positioned to turn towards whoever is performing so it appears as if they were filmed at the same place and time. Hajjaj sets up his backgrounds on the street, some sequences show leaves blowing by, or a dog wandering on set.

WATCH: An excerpt from My Rockstars Experimental, Volume 1

The group of performers is wonderfully eclectic. There are two British-Jamaican Muslim women known as “Poetic Pilgrimage,” Jose James is a singer from New York, the Nigerian singer-songwriter who calls herself “The Venus Bushfires,” and the London-based Moroccan musician Simo Lagnawi, a renowned performer of Gnawa, traditional African-Islamic spiritual songs and rhythms. In the excerpt above, Venezuelan singer Luzmira Zerpa performs the merengue, “El dia que yo me case” (“The day I get married”).

Picture of the violinist Marques Toliver standing in front of a blue tapestry, posed to play his instrument
Marques Toliver
Picture of a musician kneeling next to his string instrument in front of a pink and aqua tapestry-like background
Boubacar Kafando

“It’s an international group of performers, I think what ties them together is that Hassan Hajjaj admires their work.”

That energy in Hajjaj’s work is what drew me in too. The vibrant colors and his choice in subjects; I was instantly mesmerized. His still frames from this project, as well as Kesh Angels, reminded me of the portraiture of Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita, two photographers I came to admire during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali. They, alongside other African portrait photographers, were influencers of Hajjaj’s own style. According to Komaroff, he draws on not only their style, but their method, working with a studio set up outside to take in natural light.

Picture of musician Mandisa Dumezweni standing in front of a blue patterned background, dressed in colorful clothes, wearing sunglasses with her hands in her pockets
Mandisa Dumezweni

Interestingly enough, Komaroff sees Hajjaj’s work, and contemporary Middle East art in general, as having a close relationship to the type of art she studied in graduate school—historical Islamic art. “When I saw the video, it made me think, wow if music videos existed in 15th century Morocco, this is what it would look like. I saw it as being very much tied to earlier traditions, so it’s exciting for me to see a completely contemporary art medium, which is a music video, but tied to something I was very familiar with.”

In the context of LACMA’s Islamic Art Collection as a whole, it is essential. She believes, “it provides a perfect link between the past and present.”

My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1 is an ongoing exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

There are 26 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. sadra
    November 26, 2014

    wow surprising photo, it like fashion week L)))

  2. mohsen
    October 22, 2014

    خیلی قشنگ بود هرگونه کمکی در خدمتم

  3. nicole
    October 6, 2014

    beautiful, outstandingly amazing!!! <3

  4. m badmanabhan
    October 1, 2014


  5. Kimberly
    September 15, 2014

    Just bought his book at LACMA for one of my brother Middle East oil brats: what vibrancy — and yes, they make me smile! Shukran!

  6. Barry
    September 15, 2014

    Should be released on vinyl!!

  7. Jennifer Chapin
    September 15, 2014

    Absolutely gorgeous! What a great way to start my day.


    • latifa bennacef
      September 15, 2014

      maybe he is Moroccan, by nationality, but he is not reflecting Moroccan culture.

  8. annamaria biasini
    September 15, 2014

    Un tripudio di colori rinvigorenti

  9. Qatrinnada Rawi
    September 15, 2014

    Bright and cheerful. Lightens up this sometimes gloomy world. Beautiful and inspiring mix of colour and pattern.

  10. latifa bennacef
    September 15, 2014

    those are not Moroccans people, nor the Moroccan outfit.
    Not from years ago, nor from nowadays.
    Those pictures have just nothing to do with Morocco.

  11. Pierre Moreau
    September 14, 2014

    Photographic graffiti at its best

  12. Barbara s. Carpenter
    September 14, 2014

    Magnificent colors and arrangements of people, fiber, styles. Envigorating.

  13. Sophia Tazi
    September 14, 2014

    Marvelous inspiring colorful pictures
    Thank you

    September 14, 2014

    Magníficas fotos. Gracias por compartir.

  15. frances nkechi opara
    September 14, 2014

    Visual communication is ART!

  16. chele
    September 14, 2014

    Agree with all prior comments plus plus! smashing

  17. Veronica Grigore
    September 14, 2014

    Very nice, original,relaxing. Good work! Good luck!

  18. Joy Slade
    September 14, 2014

    Absolutely fabulous! Brilliant!

  19. arsailman
    September 14, 2014

    I love the bright and beautiful outfits. His staging is wonderful…

  20. Raulgio
    September 14, 2014

    Se disfruta la magia del color y sus combinaciones

  21. Richard Alden Peterson
    September 14, 2014

    Love this work, inspired and open-minded. Makes one wish they could meet these very interesting looking individuals.

  22. Brigitte Lefever
    September 14, 2014

    very good impression of art and culture ! the pictures are lovely for the eyes !

  23. Daguzan
    September 9, 2014

    Superbes où acheter votre livre et vos photos

  24. Keith Nunes
    September 3, 2014

    Brilliant Stuff, very well done. The models/artists and the backdrops truly compliment one another.

  25. Dolors Bas Vall
    September 2, 2014

    very original

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