The days of imperialism are gone, but their wake has left residual concerns over a creeping expansion of Western culture.
While many developing countries struggle to hold onto their traditional cultures, Moroccan-born artist Hassan Hajjaj comes at globalism from a different perspective: A nation’s culture can be compatible with the outside influences now so ubiquitous in the modern world.
That duality is a principal aesthetic of his new exhibition “My Rock Stars Experimental, Volume 1,” a video installation going on display at the Wexner Center for the Arts this weekend.
The work features nine videos projected side-by-side in the Wex’s ground floor gallery. Each video features a performance by musicians, many of whom are Hajjaj’s acquaintances. While each perform in turn, the others sit in silence, “watching” the action.
The installation follows in the footsteps of previous photo series Hajjaj has done, like “‘Kesh Angels,” which featured glamorous portraits of Moroccans in traditional garb posed on motorcycles and bordered by Western products like Pepsi cans.
“In one sense, he’s simply documenting the world he knows,” said Wex curator-at-large Bill Horrigan.
Hajjaj, who grew up in a fishing village in Morocco, moved to London with his family as a teenager.
“He was thrust immediately into a melting pot of East London culture,” Horrigan said. “He had to learn to navigate this thing that was already a hybrid culture, and I think he’s interested in this kind of fluidity of identity and nationality.”
Unlike “’Kesh Angels,” the installation at the Wex doesn’t have Pepsi cans or other overt symbols of globalism. Instead, Hajjaj designed native streetwear for the performers to don, and added touches of Western luxury like knock-off Gucci shoes.
“He’s worked in London in the club scene, music scene and the periphery of the arts scene, absorbing all these influences,” Horrigan said “That’s really joined with the strong instinct he has — which he talks about a lot — of being a scavenger. He sees things on the street, takes them and repurposes them in some fashion. All those factor into this very positive, non-inward-turning and a non-neurotic aesthetic.”
That willingness to combine the old and the new can make for “eye-popping visual pleasure,” Horrigan said.
The videos were shot in London and feature performers from Morocco, Burkina Faso, Jamaica, Venezuela, the United States, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa.
The gallery opens Saturday and runs through April 12. With a half-hour runtime, the gallery also has adornments like Coca-Cola crates recycled as furniture for visitors to relax on while watching.
Admission is free for students and Wex members, $6 for seniors and OSU faculty and staff, and $8 for general audiences.