Marrakech, art, humour and feeling delicate about feminism

[update nov 2015 – having discovered Hajjij is a male artist, not a female]

Earlier in the week at the Maison de la Photographie, I saw wonderful historical images of the Berbers and bought postcards of some photos of women wearing burkhas, because I have always been fascinated by the powerful impact they have, particularly in feminist debate.

Before reading further, please look at Shirin Neshat ‘ Rebellious Silence’ 1994 Her self portrait of the artist, part of Women of Allah series.  An iconic image of the artist holding a gun, with her face covered in calligraphic writings of Farsi texts.

‘As the artist, I took on the role of performer, posing for the photographs. These photographs became iconic portraits of wilfully armed Muslim women. Yet every image, every women’s submissive gaze, suggests a far more complex and paradoxical reality behind the surface.’

But it has now. And the Neshat image returns to my mind, as I sit in a city that is welcoming, beautiful and just slightly edgy for me (as a white european woman).

This week, in Marrakech, I saw a recent work by Hassan Hajjaj. Hajjaj is a Morrocan artist, born in 1961, Hajjaj has spent many years living and working in London. Hajjaj offers a contemporary take on similar issues, with a playfulness that dances around the edges of the tensions that arise around the burkha.  When the film “Naabz” (2011) was initially programmed to be shown at the Marrakech Museum of Photography, the Charlie Hebdo tragic shooting had not yet occurred.

Hajjaj’s work both amused and unnerved me. That it was shot in Paris cannot free me from relating the two events – the film and the city. In her/his {NOTE: Ilater found out she is a he, which gives a mjaor twist to this text] film, she/e rides around dressed in a burhka of sorts, but it is comprised of spotty  handkerchiefs topped with lady gaga star sunglasses. The film was made 11 days before the French banned the wearing of the burhka. She/he wears spotty clothes, possibly a nod of reference to the Japanese artist Yayoi Kasuma (1929)

Her/his performance shows her/him fly posting images of women in burhkas, racing around in her crazy costume, Juxtaposing her/his posters with background images of the Eiffel Tower, the cities fallic symbol not to be messed with. The night of the recent shooting the tower lights were switched off to show respect for the cartoonists who had been shot dead in the Hebdo offices.

This darkness plays off aganst the humour. Like Pipolotti Rist’s work, Hajjaj speaks for women of all nationalities – yet, it turns out, Hajjij is a man. Feminism is often use as a critique against the burhka, but when Muslim women speak out in defense of the burkha, where does that argument reside? What right do western women have to make decisions on behalf of other cultures? What right do fundamentalist any-religion people have to make decisions about other people’s lives?

Freedom of speech is one thing, murder in the name of religion is murder.

Art speaks of these things. Art can be political but is not to be confused with politics. Religious fervour can have ethical codes, but no ethical code results in murder. Because murder is not ethical.  Or morally just.

When the world is rocked by a murder and then uses it as a tool provoke more murder, something is seriously wrong. Use words, use art, use dialogue. Drop the gun. Violence is never the solution. Humour is a buffer zone, respect it.


Published by carolyn black

I'm an artist and also commission contemporary art in unusual locations. As a producer, I fundraise, curate, project manage and deliver projects. I'm also a writer and film-maker.

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