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.