“Kesh Angels”: The Fierce Females of Morocco

02/27/2014 @ 11:03 am, by Aakash Desai12 COMMENTS


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

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    Doesn’t it embody repression of sexuality? right wrong or indifferent and to be as politically correct as possible…isn’t that the point of covering up every square inch of a woman except her eyes?

    I can practically hear in the background…”if you #@!! take this photo shoot any further (I’m talking to you reckless bandit who took that pornographic photo of knee-to-ankle bare leg) somebody is gonna get stoned!”

  • Because, all Muslims are the same right?

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    Speaking to these pictures only and culture in Morroco Jensen. But thanks for your vile assumption. Let’s hope it kick stirs debate on something having nothing to do with this blog.

    Your comment Jensen is the intolerence everyone is tired of. Why do I have the feeling you nearly choked on your sandwhich running to the computer the nano second you saw a comment.

  • I swallowed first (phrasing?).

    I doubt these photos are making waves in Morocco, which is a pretty liberal state, on the Islamic spectrum. There is a commentary being made, nonetheless though — I’m just not sure it’s about religion, sex, or oppression.

  • Chaz


    I didn’t want to be picked as anti or “ist” but keep it a little less heady.

    If you’ll excuse me now I’m gonna read the other stuff you posted about motorcycles now.

  • JW

    This is art. Therefor I see no race, religion or borders.

  • Flyingfox

    Well I think its farckin’ hilarious! Not exactly the Road Safe dress code but who cares……………….if the Kesh Girls want to ride Let em’ ride

  • smiler

    Well done for bringing something different to the blog Mr Beeler.
    Given the conservatism of many muslim countries, top points for these girls for breaking the mould and dressing in a humerous manner.

    Everyone wears a uniform. the KKK in the states do not look dissimilar to these girls. American bikerboyz culture also cobers iteslf from head to toe in cotton, thoughn they do it volontarily, so do many women in the Muslim world.

    That manufactuer mototobecane – should read moto to be caned?

  • paulus

    It is equally strange and staged/contrived as the other recent “women’s” piece.
    … but with a sense of fun.

  • Starmag

    Yea! The Bandit Circus is in town!

  • Matt Higgins

    Dem bitches be representin’ an shit!

  • Wayne Thomas

    Too many Americans want to just hate on Islam without bothering to read our own cultural tome – the Bible and see just how misogynistic, brutal, and historically inaccurate it is. The Bible is not appreciably different than the Muslim piece of historical fiction, but our culture has far outpaced our book where many who profess to be Christian simply ignore the parts that they don’t like. Muslims do the same, but the problem Dr. Dawkins/Sam Harris/New Atheist Movement is not in or our mythologies. Our problems lie in ourselves.

    Blaming religion for the world’s ills is in no substantive way different from those who blame the devil.