Morocco: The Surprise of Absence

Contemporary Artists from Morocco

Catalogue of the Imago Mundi Collection: Morocco: The Surprise Of Absence (2013) by Contemporary Artists From MoroccoImago Mundi

Morocco, the surprise of absence

Returning to Marrakech after a few days makes you feel at home. The same riad (TN: A “Riad” in Morocco is a hotel usually housed in buildings or apartment complexes of great architectural and/or historical prestige) that is marked by the Tarik kindness, the same people who greeted you the last time, no longer assail you as was done before in the attempt to sell many different objects, today they greet me. By now I have become a regular presence.

Abdelali Belal - Conversation, Abdelali Belal, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Abdelali Belal - Conversation (2013)

Anxious to reach the goal of the project, I take a shower and I’m on the move. My nose is not yet accustomed to the kaleido- scope of smells of the souk and Jamaa el Fna Square. Most women have their faces covered and to catch their eye is an event in and of itself, but the sign of the times is felt here too: it is not unusual to see a mother or a grandmother rummaging through piles of clothes for sale accom- panied by her daughter or by her grand- daughter dressed in the latest fashion.

Monique Faviere Fernandez - Color Morocco, Monique Faviere Fernandez, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Monique Faviere Fernandez - Color Morocco (2013)

The sense of color and luster is so exaggerated as to have little to do with the harmony and the study of colors that from Goethe onwards have marked the most renowned educational institutions of the famed West, dedicated to the continuing plunder of knowledge that is common for any culture, but with the ability to revitalize and enhance it.

Wessal Leknizi - Floral Pattern, Wessal Leknizi, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Wessal Leknizi - Floral Pattern (2013)

If art is a concept invented by the West “for pure intellectual speculation”, art here is useful for the salvation of the individual to make it unique and inimitable in the face of a world that looks more like a ring than the garden of Eden.
Inshallah is perhaps the word, the concept that best describes these peoples. It is exactly that “if God wills” that renews the awareness of still being alive.

Hanae Eloudghiri - Nostalgia, Hanae Eloudghiri, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Hanae Eloudghiri - Nostalgia (2013)

Finally Mohamed Zaidi, a young self- taught artist, reaches me, accompanied by two friends: Abedlfattah Bellali (artist) and Younnes Pikiti. The day before, I met the Iraqi artist Ahmad Mzeil at the Cafe de France. Ahmad speaks excellent English and a great empathy is immediately established between us. For this reason I propose for him to follow me on the journey along with Mohamed, Fattah and Younnes. His presence will be crucial to communicate with the locals.

Mohamed El Mountassir - Calligraphic Impression, Mohamed El Mountassir, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Mohamed El Mountassir - Calligraphic Impression (2013)

First stop: the Royal Theater in Marrakech. Artists, both young and old are waiting for us, all ready to make their contribution to Imago Mundi. The project was welcomed with great enthusiasm and warmth. When I delivered the canvases, some went to work on the spot, others decided to give them back the next day.

Abdel Ouahedd Tajani - Old In Blue, Abdel Ouahedd Tajani, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Abdel Ouahedd Tajani - Old In Blue (2013)

No one can ignore the democratic dimension of the project. They all share a passion for the new approach that Luciano Benetton wanted to give to Imago Mundi, deliberately ignoring those ranks of so-called artistic value that in the artistic environment often are more involved with the market than the art itself in its dimension of a concrete utopia.

Hicham Maidi - Heart Of Fes, Hicham Maidi, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Hicham Maidi - Heart Of Fes (2013)

Mint tea is the inevitable companion of anyone who wants to live in Morocco. The tea is poured with absolute accuracy; the height from which it is dropped into the cup is crucial. If the operation is performed with due skill, all the aromas and flavors of the drink are released as if by magic. The cutlery? Essentially useless. The sense of community is also felt at the table. You eat with your hands using the bread to pick up food from the common dish: tajine, couscous, olives, Moroccan salad, vegetable soup, orange juice, sardines, pastilla etc...

Afrae Ben Hakka - Aesthetic Responce, Afrae Ben Hakka, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Afrae Ben Hakka - Aesthetic Responce (2013)

The next stop is Essaouira, the legendary Atlantic medina. The small town is on a human scale and retains that romantic and exotic air that has made it a favorite destination for many artists. Even Jimi Hendrix stayed there to find inspiration for his music. The beaches and the sea still seem untouched, shops overflowing with toys and souvenirs can be found just inside the medina. The towers and the harbor, which is teeming with small ships, fishing boats, and seagulls waiting for the remains of the fish caught in the early morning, look the same as many port cities. But in Essaouira, faces are different, and all the weight of fatigue shines through their gazes. Many fishermen with their crumpled straw hats, seem like characters in a Hemingway novel: taciturn and mending their nets waiting for the umpteenth challenge with who knows what sea monster. Tourists who wander on the dock appear out of place, spectators who unwittingly endanger the balance between ocean and man that has existed since the dawn of time. Fishermen, like astronauts, always see the world from another point of view: silent and heroic as the Greek myth of the Argonauts.

Adrif Boutina - The Other Face, Adrif Boutina, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Adrif Boutina - The Other Face (2013)

Here too, the artists are an integral part of their land and, as in other cities, the themes of the works refer directly to the everyday landscape, the tea, the medina, the sea etc... We arrive at the artist’s studio on the outskirts of the city. The appearance is that of a perpetually open yard crossed by roads with the usual small shops, lined up one after another, crammed with merchandise packed up to unlikely heights. The day is coming to an end. The studio overlooks a square in which some children are still playing football waiting to go home. We go in and experience the feeling of traveling back in time. I find myself at the end of the nineteenth century: the dim light, oil or acrylic paintings that tell stories through landscapes or faces of ordinary people. Leaving the studio, a horse- drawn carriage does not await – as the atmosphere would lead us to think – but a donkey that barely manages to drag a cart with wheels borrowed from an old car behind it.

Fatima Aijou - Cultural Contamination, Fatima Aijou, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Fatima Aijou - Cultural Contamination (2013)

Guests of a friend named Mohammed, we prepare to lie down after eating a meal shared with laughter and jokes. The following evening we said our goodbyes and thanked each other among kisses, salam aleikum (goodbye), shokran (thank you), and inshallah. We get back into our race car, a Dacia rented a few days before in Marrakech, and take the road to Casablanca. The highway is brand new, but looking at the scenery, not much has changed: a wasteland with crops, flocks of sheep, cabins and bent backs strewn here and there.

Mohammed Outouf - Untitled, Mohammed Outouf, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Mohammed Outouf - Untitled (2013)

We arrive in Casablanca and the effect is that of a punch in the stomach: the city is an incredible, chaotic, discordant, and harsh metropolis. Absolute poverty coexists with the most blatant wealth, creating a paradoxical and absurd show. In the suburbs you get the immediate sense of the harshness of life and the countless daily gimmicks necessary to survive. A donkey and some sheep feed themselves by rummaging in the garbage. Maybe they are the same sheep that tomorrow I might buy from the butcher and cook on the spot in the midst of honking cars, smog, and the procession of beggars.

Noureddine El Hiba - Harka, Noureddine El Hiba, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Noureddine El Hiba - Harka (2013)

We visit various studios until the middle of the night when we arrive at the home of a friend who lives in the suburbs. I’m really tired, the Casablanca taverns amused, but exhausted me: music, wine and food accompanied by the singing of a prostitute, were my welcome to this metropolis. We all lie down on the typical Moroccan sofas, each with their own blanket. It’s rare to sleep in a bed in Maghreb. Here all the activities take place in the living room (after having removed your shoes). In the living room you eat, you converse, and you all sleep together on the sofas called sdadr.

Najib Ghissassi - Chambre Medersaa AlbouaâNania Fes Medina, Najib Ghissassi, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Najib Ghissassi - Chambre Medersaa AlbouaâNania Fes Medina (2013)

The next day we go to Tétouan and the mood changes again. There are more foreigners and locals also speak Spanish because, like Tangier, the city was part of the protectorate of Spain. The medina is gorgeous, the streets are winding and you smell the sea air. People are more “westernized”; but to be fair, Spain is fifty miles away. The young and resourceful Alex (President of the “Uniart” association), greets me with great kindness and friendship. Traditional Moroccan art (calligraphy, art of Berber origin etc...) in these parts is less present and gives way to the informal and to a certain kind of realism. But even here pride for independence from France and Spain is deeply rooted, as is the strong need to affirm their uniqueness and creative identity.

Madrane Nourreddine - Green March, Madrane Nourreddine, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Madrane Nourreddine - Green March (2013)

Fes is also memorable for the aroma of black coffee which I love. Its boulevards are like those of Paris, but the medina is an almost magical place. The intense earth-color, almost red, and the colors of its streets studded with objects, carpets and spices are a joy to behold. Finally I arrive at the residence of King Mohamed VI: Rabat. The city is beautiful, the pace is more peaceful and the people are friendly. Rabat is home to the royal palace, parliament, foreign consulates and cultural centers. On the façade of the parliament hangs a huge banner commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the birth of the parliamentary institution.

Mostafa Elarji - Traditional Door, Mostafa Elarji, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Mostafa Elarji - Traditional Door (2013)

Last stop is Sidi Kacem, a town in north- central Morocco. Here I was able to get an idea of the authentic life of Maghreb, thanks to the hospitality of Mohamed Zaidi and his family, who welcomed me like an old friend. Their home was my home and I hope to return one day.

Elmostafa Timija - Mojtame Of Marrakech, Elmostafa Timija, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Elmostafa Timija - Mojtame Of Marrakech (2013)

Essaid Reghai - Untitled, Essaid Reghai, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Essaid Reghai - Untitled (2013)

Dear Morocco, I will remember you for your colors and fragrances, for your spices, for your hospitality, for your paradoxes, for the friendly omnipresence of the King, for the food, for your true and popular art, for the pride with which you claim your cultural autonomy and the absence of the oppressive cultural and artistic superstructure that has doomed the West. I offer you a yellow rose in a sign of friendship, because one day I will return to you and we will recognize each other and shake hands while sitting at a table drinking mint tea.

Noureddine Ghazi - The Movement Of Time, Noureddine Ghazi, 2013, From the collection of: Imago Mundi
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Noureddine Ghazi - The Movement Of Time (2013)

Credits: Story

Project management
La Biennale di Malindi Ltd

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Emanuele Benedetti
Anwar Rtili Alexander

Editing and translation
Carlo Antonio Biscotto
Emma Cole
Pietro Valdatta

Art direction
Marcello Piccinini

Emanuele Benedetti (P. 24–27)
Marco Zanin (Artworks)

Marco Pavan

Special thanks to
Fondazione Sarenco
Lynn Chebet
Yonas Kibrom

Abid El Gaouzi - The Men

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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