Ever had that weird experience of bumping into people you know in unexpected places? Ten years ago in Marrakech I crossed paths with a British based Moroccan artist in a sandal shop. I knew him from London (we’d hosted a small show for him at our old gallery) but was surprised to bump into him like that some 3,000 km away. Fast forward ten years and just as we landed in Menara airport, who do we bump into in the immigration queue? Yup, the same artist. Hassan Hajjaj. Serendipity strike two! He’s a truly brilliant artist – known as the Andy Warhol of Marrakech. A fashion stylist turned self taught artist, his work blends and clashes vibrant Eastern and Western pop culture and people with the glossiness of fashion shoots, a story telling melting pot of textiles, colour, objects, photography and film.
In 2006 he acquired a run down fonduq in the back streets of the Medina and set about transforming it into a tea room and boutique gallery to showcase not only his art but also furniture design (from repurposed materials) and fashion.
We had an interesting time finding the Riad. Having lunched at the nearby Nomad restaurant (amazing!) we set off in the direction of the Riad, along a narrow street with crumbling derelict buildings. An elderly Arabic man sitting on the floor told us there was nothing of interest in that direction and we should go back to the Souks. We told him we were looking for Riad Yima and he suddenly jumped up excitedly telling us what a special and fantastic place it is and how wonderful Hassan is – he’d heard that he’d even had his works shown in Dubai. He completely transformed and gave us clear directions on how to get there. We soon got lost in the maze of streets though!
A group of children playing in the street eventually escorted us to the front door and insisted on knocking on the door to announce our arrival.
Inside the Riad is a kaleidoscope of jewel colours, textures, fabric and patterns, all set in a series of rooms over 4 floors around a central courtyard.
Hassan’s works are scattered throughout – I particularly like these large photographs framed with decorative tin can frames. The compositions are wonderful and the women’s postures give off such great sass and attitude reflecting contemporary arab culture.
The boutique sells a range of colourful objects and accessories including printed babouche slippers, tote bags made from flour sacks, moroccan pouffs, lanterns fashioned from recycled cans and furniture made from Arabic signs and drinks crates.
The Riad features so many different patterned tiles! Perfect for a floor lover like me.
Hassan has an intuitive eye for colour and the Riad is dotted with brilliantly curated corners to lounge and drink mint tea. The Riad also offers cooking workshops, which start with a visit to the Souks to buy fresh ingredients. We’ll be doing that on our next visit!
On our way back to the hustle and bustle of the medina, we passed our friend, the elderly North African man. He couldn’t wait to hear our thoughts on Riad Yima and was brimming with pride when we told him how wonderful we thought it was. It seems Hassan is something of a local legend – a true accolade for a contemporary artist in a city known for traditional art. The man then spent 10 minutes debating the outcome of Brexit in eloquent English, advising us that the real business is to be done in Morocco. He may well be right, although if you’re not travelling to Morocco anytime soon, you can still visit Hassan’s work at his Shoreditch shop, but email first to check as it doesn’t have set opening hours.
30-32 Calvert Avenue
London E2 7JP
Tel: 020 7729 7349
Hassan recently had a show at London’s Somerset House – watch the video trailer below which was produced in collaboration with 1:54 African Art Fair.
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