It’s always nice to get a firm slap in the face from somewhere in the world that contradicts our notions of what motorcycling is all about.
Toeing the line between the hedonistic expressionism of Western culture and the more austere conservatism of traditional Islamic culture, London-based artist Hassan Hajjaj aims to pull-apart the pretentious self-importance of both worlds.
More importantly, by using female subjects as the protagonists in his compositions, Hajjaj challenges numerous Western and Eastern stereotypes about gender roles in this context.
The poses are playful and challenging and the use of scooters and motorcycles cements the subjects in Moroccan two-wheeler culture as well as in the Western two-wheels-as-freedom narrative. A metaphorical straddling, if you will.
Titled “‘Kesh Angles”, Hassan’s compositions are bright, colorful and chock full of cultural references. The subjects embody bravado, aggression, sexuality and even normalcy in high fashion and hip-hop poses.
The transformation of the traditional abayas with brash designs and product trademarking points to the very real ways in which globalized marketing strategies eventually subsume and co-opt all forms of cultural difference.
Yet, is it possible to see Hassan’s project as a reversal of this Western co-optation of the East? I had a friend and badass Gramscian queer feminist, Ariel Cooper, take a look at the images. She saw the work as less of a negative referential critique and more as an active reappropriation of the female identity in Islamic culture and move in defiance of Western narratives of the Islamic female.
She thought that the work challenges the way people, and most notably males, in Islamic and Western culture normally view the female body; the way they, and we align it into specific roles or spaces for participation and exclude it from others.
“The image of women riding motorcycles is commonly seen as sexy and assertive in the ‘West’, even if it still unexpected, but what happens when this image is transposed into an Arabic, Muslim landscape?” she asked.
At the same time the Hassan’s female protagonists are taking the privilege of voyeurism, of surreptitiously viewing these female bodies, away from us. In this way Hassan’s frames are spaces where agency is removed from the viewer and appropriated by the subjects.
Missing, however, are the voices of our female protagonists who still must exist in a less creative and more concrete reality outside of the artist’s studio.
I want to hear from them about their thoughts on the project, their experiences riding on the streets of Marrakesh and their perspectives on performing gender at the meeting of fabricated or real cultural divides.
The exhibition can be viewed at the Taymour Grahne Gallery in New York City through March 8th.
Source: Daily Beast; Photos: © 2010 Hassan Hajjaj — All Rights Reserved