We met up with artist, Hassan Hajjaj, and designer, Amine Bendriouich, during Tunis Fashion Week where they showcased their first collaboration. Hajjaj’s maximalist aesthetic and explosive re-appropriation of Moroccan culture fused with mass consumerist Eastern culture, and Bendriouiche’s revisit of contemporary wear and involvement in the Arab underground youth make them two of the most innovative and ambitious figures of the Moroccan Kingdom.
Style.com/Arabia sat down with them to discuss being an artist in the Arab world and Eastern and Western interactions.
So, how did this collaboration come about? How did you meet and how did this conversation about clothes begin?
HASSAN HAJJAJ: It goes back a few years. Amine told me that he was a fan of some of my work at a time when I was producing t-shirts based on Moroccan images that I shot.
AMINE BENDRIOUICH: I was in high school. It was so impressive for me to see a Moroccan doing such cool things, you know. So I always used to go by his shop on my way to school just to take a look at the t-shirts he made as I couldn’t afford to buy them yet.
HH: A few years down the line, around 2007, I saw this wild character jumping up and down with a lot of energy at a music festival and this is how we first met.
For me, also it was the first time I had seen someone from Morocco doing something different. Printed on the t-shirt was the Puma logo—but instead of the puma, it had a ‘heemar’, the donkey. Amine started to organize a lot of parties in Casablanca fusing music, art, and fashion. I was very proud to see someone doing something kind of underground. Since then, we have always been supportive of each other and have tried to find a way to collaborate. But we didn’t want to force it.
I had been doing these shoots for my Rock Stars series making classic suits, using a tailor and fabrics I sourced from Bamako just for the purpose of the shoots.
We started talking and it was an opportunity to use Amine’s designs to take this further with the way he cuts and works his garments.
Tell us more about these incredible fabrics.
HH: The fabric here is used like a canvas for advertising. When Obama came to Africa, his face was everywhere on the garments; it was one of the biggest selling African fabrics. So with this type of fabric, you have two kinds of things. Well, actually, three things: you have the local politicians, the religious, and also when somebody dies, they print his face on the fabric.
AB: Normally, the prints are used for religious and political propaganda. For example, a politician will make fabrics for his country and distribute it to the people. There are, in Africa and in sub-Saharan countries, a lot of churches. Cardinals promote themselves by printing their faces on the fabrics. It was quite interesting to take all this and translate it into fashion.
HH: What Amine has done is very clever. He cut the repetitive messages and reassembled them. My favorite jacket has “peace” on the heart, “truth” on the right, and “justice” on the back. The tailoring of the jackets, the detailing on the back, and the research on the pockets are fantastic.
With this collection, you kind of “did it” the African way—you wore your colors high and proud. But what is the message behind this collection?
HH: We are trying to help our local heroes. It is a long-term plan. But we would like to develop our own fabrics and feature our own heroes.
Both of you are really part of the new generation of voices of Morocco. Hassan, you started this pop Moroccan art.
HH: Well, I am hoping to take this beyond Morocco and Amine as well. I hope it touches the rest of the Arab world. Over the last few years, I received a lot of emails from fans, the young generation, from everywhere—not just Morocco, who are trying to make it as Arab artists.
Hassan, you have a strong presence in the GCC and Levant and it is true that there is more power and money there than in Tunisia and Morocco. Do you think that to succeed, Amine should venture into the GCC?
HH: For me, it is very important if you’re coming from an Arab background to be accepted by Arabs first. Amine is going to Dubai next month. The GCC is a hub for Arab art. The clients there are supporting Arab artists in a serious way, they are proud. As for North Africans, we are on the same kind of boat, in a sense, but we don’t have the logistics to support art yet.
I think that now with regards to the arts in the Arab world, the problem is the editing. When throwing fashion events or featuring talents, people start with nationality. They are looking for Arab designers and artists and they don’t curate their selection based on talent. Here at Tunis Fashion Week, it is another example. We would have much more power if we would be leading from a place of quality rather than a place of nationality.
HH: At the end of the day, it is about having your work judged and sometimes I would rather if somebody sees my work, and not say that it is Moroccan or Arab, but just say if the work is good.
HH: In regards to our collaboration, if you don’t put our name and say it Is Moroccan, one might think it’s an African designer or one of these new, trendy, European designers.
AB: When I say to people, “I am a fashion designer”, in Morocco people think that I am designing kaftans, and they think the opposite when I showcase my collections in Europe. They are surprised to see that I am Moroccan. They think, “You’re Moroccan, you should be doing this or that.” “You are Tunisian, you should be doing foota or whatever…”
Maybe our market is in need of an elevated foota (traditional gown). I hear that a lot, every time I interview a designer, he or she doesn’t want to be perceived via their nationality. But I have never heard any Italian designer saying, “I don’t want to be Italian.” Dolce and Gabbana, everything they do relates to Sicily and it’s all about la mamma…