Kesh Angels

This striking series of photographs entitled Kesh Angels is the innovative work of the Moroccan-born, UK-based artist, Hassan Hajjaj. Using a variety of design techniques that incorporate fashion and handicrafts, these portraits of Moroccan female bikers encapsulate both the personal and political aspects of female authority in Marrakech.

By placing traditional items like the djellaba robe next to symbols of consumerism – represented by everything from soda cans to lego pieces – these photographs blend the glossy aesthetic of a fashion shoot with North African tradition.

Hajjaj chose his personal friends as models – real women, mothers and wives with full-time careers. From musicians to dancers, waitresses to henna artists, they ride these bikes around the bustling, windy streets of Morocco’s medinas. Where as the Hell’s Angels (on which the title of the exhibition plays) are an elitist and crime-ridden gang, the ‘Kesh Angels’ are an earnest embodiment of youth, independence and fun.

Hajjaj chose his personal friends as models – real women, mothers and wives with full-time careers

In an increasingly globalised world, Hajjaj has managed to capture the individuality of his subjects. Forget the hardcore leathers, questionable tattoos and stringy hair(less)-dos of the all male gang, these biker women occupy a symbolic space that most ‘angels’ fear to tread. Echoing the spirit of established works such as Matisse’s odalisques, Warhol’s Pop Art and Koons’ photography, Hajjaj’s series reinterprets the conceptions of Arab women.

A closer look at the women’s traditional clothing reveals Western trademark branding. The occasional Nike swoosh or Gucci ‘G’ are a reflection of the Moroccan tradition of sewing or ironing designer logos onto clothes to keep pace with the Western world. These stand alongside Arabic script and flowers reminiscent of ancient Mughal painting.

For us, the motorcycle as a symbol of independence triggers a serious case of déja-vu – Steve McQueen’s The Great Escape and Audrey Hepburn in that timeless Roman Holiday vespa shoot spring to mind. Kesh Angels are like the American dream seen through a kaleidoscopic lens, recycling everyday objects and celebrating cultural identity.

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