Fashionistas at the wheel: Meet the female biker gangs of Marrakech

Updated 1100 GMT (1900 HKT) September 29, 2017
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Hassan Hajjaj's "Kesh Angels" exhibition at the Taymour Grahne Gallery shows tradition mingling with modernity. It also counters stereotypes about Muslim women. "When Westerners see a women with the veil a lot of them think, 'Do they really ride a bike?'" Hajjaj says. "If these women were in Italy they would look past that." Hassan Hajjaj
Hajjaj hoped to showcase Marrakech as it is, replete with its vibrant fashion and confident women. Here, a woman wears a traditional "djellabah" robe and poses on her Motobecane. "If you take a person who doesn't travel and who watches TV, they might view Morocco as another Syria or Iraq," Hajjaj says. "But it's its own country with its own vibe."
Hassan Hajjaj
And that vibe includes plenty of independent women. Marrakech motorcycle culture welcomes everyone and society does not look down on female riders. "Journalists often ask, 'What do you think of women being covered up?'" Hajjaj says. "I find that silly. It's traditional clothing. It's not like anyone is holding a staff over them." Hassan Hajjaj
"Journalists call me asking if this is a real gang," Hajjaj says. "That is a misguided word that could scare people." He stresses that the woman in his photographs are painters, writers, dancers and mothers -- everyday people who happen to get around on motorbikes. Hassan Hajjaj
Hajjaj has surrounded many of the images with inlaid wooden frames, in which he stocks cans of Pepsi, chicken stock, eyeliner, and matchboxes with Arabic script. The products give these foreign images a touch of the familiar, and also add a layer of kitsch. "I'm a '60s kid, so I'm celebrating Pop art," he says. "But it's Pop art from the Arab world." Hassan Hajjaj
Hajjaj, who moved to London from Morocco at the age of 13, remembers how he and other immigrant children would sew name brand logos onto their jeans and shoes. That phenomenon transcends borders and time, as with these women who wear djellabah with the Nike swoosh. "In the so-called Third World there are many people wearing this to keep up with the Westerners," Hajjaj says. Hassan Hajjaj
Hajjaj has been photographing Karima for 15 years. "She is one of my heroes," he says. "She does henna, is married, has two kids and works hard. She has swagger and speaks three languages." Hassan Hajjaj
In 1984 Hajjaj owned a London fashion boutique called RAP, short for Real Artistic People. "Sometimes the women have their own clothes and I photograph them in things they are wearing," he says. "Sometimes I add on stuff." Hassan Hajjaj
Finding locations for the photos came easy in Marrakech. "The medina and the new town were big inspirations," Hajjaj says. "Normally you have to fly seven hours from London to reach a place with such foreign style." He can be in Marrakech in half the time. Hassan Hajjaj
Hajjaj believes the immigrant experience guides his work, and helps him see contrasts between foreign and familiar, modern and traditional. "Living between two places made me a bit of a misfit and gave me a different eye," he says. "What I left in Morocco I've highlighted with the work I do in London." Hassan Hajjaj