Major exhibitions by Chantal Joffe and Hassan Hajjaj, sharing the common, pertinent theme of portraiture, family and friends
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Chantal Joffe: For Esme – with Love and Squalor
For Esme – with Love and Squalor explores the intimate act of painting and portraiture. Taking its name from J.D. Salinger’s short story For Esmé – with Love and Squalor (1950) in which time hangs as heavy as the protagonist’s ‘enormous-faced chronographic-looking wristwatch’, the exhibition captures the changing faces across the years of Chantal and her daughter Esme, moving between mother and daughter, love and squalor, and the act of care and being cared for.
Including a number of new works (many produced whilst in ‘lockdown’), highlights include a series of portraits of Joffe’s daughter, from older works such as Esme (First Painting) captured as a new-born swaddled in blankets, to the later, defiantly awkward, Esme in White, painted within days of her sixteenth birthday this year.
These sit alongside a number of self-portraits, including the both intimate and monumental Bonnard inspired Reading in Bath I and III; never-before seen series Pictures of what I did not see, which depicts Joffe undergoing a traumatic illness and being cared for by Esme and a series of startlingly honest self-portraits. Produced one a day over the course of a year this 2018 series captures both the artist and her environment – from London’s cool winter light to the haze of a summer in the stifling New York heat.
The relationship between subject and place (specifically the domestic interior) and solitude and company within each of these works feels especially resonant. To paraphrase co-curator Dorothy Price, art historian and long-time collaborator of Joffe, Joffe’s work ‘traces a finger of time through the very act of being alive.’
Hassan Hajjaj: The Path
With an exuberant melee of colours, patterns, appropriated brand logos and found objects, Hassan Hajjaj’s The Path is a timely exploration of global culture across continents through the unique lens of acclaimed Moroccan-British photographer.
Assembled by renowned curator, writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun the exhibition draws inspiration from the album The Path by the jazz-fusion musician Ralph MacDonald, which pays artistic testament to the diasporic scattering of peoples of African descent around the globe, a common theme in Hajjaj’s practice.
This exhibition of photography and video confronts Hajjaj’s dual-identity, referencing his personal journey from his birthplace in Larache, Morocco, to London and beyond, and his experience working around the world.
The Path incorporates three major photographic series: the first, Dakka Marrakchia, sees women pose like fashion models on the streets and rooftops of Marrakech while dressed in camouflage pattern abayas and Louis Vuitton print face veils, the portraits offering a deliberate refutation of stereotypes of Islamic women as subjugated and disempowered.
In My Rockstars Hajjaj turns his focus to British personalities, concentrating primarily on figures such as jazz musician Kamaal Williams. As always, his subjects hail from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds creating, in composite, a portrait of Britain at its most dynamically diverse.
The final series, Between presents a selection of Hajjaj’s photography that focuses on landscape, place and sensibility, rather than portraiture. Reflecting the artist’s travels in Africa and the Middle East, the photographs reveal Hajjaj in a new light, as a photographer concerned with the intimacies of everyday life as well as the performed presentation of the self.
Through these works, Hajjaj conjures a vision of a society united, not divided, by difference. At a time of conflict within Britain, Hajjaj’s portraits make an urgent, timely case in favour of hybridity and multiculturalism. In his images, cultural identity is seen as fluid and multiple rather than fixed and singular – welcome to Hassan’s world!