Exposing Morocco’s diversity through art
Bayt Al Fenn – Chkoun Ana?
Chkoun Ana (Who am I)? This was the essential question that kept eleven artists from all over Morocco busy during the 2022 edition of the arts residency “Bayt Al Fenn” (house of art), an annual project jointly organized by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom and Hiba Foundation. The project now concluded when the public could discover the fruit of the artists’ work during a vernissage and exhibition at the National Library in Rabat.
While most art residencies focus on one specific discipline, Bayt Al Fenn takes a multidisciplinary approach, opening its doors to emerging painters, musicians, poetry slammers, street artists, graphic designers and rappers alike. Hence, the responses to the key question were not only different in content but also in form. Visitors of the exhibition could watch, touch and listen to the artwork.
This year’s guiding theme, “Who am I?” did not only inspire intense debate among visitors of the vernissage and subsequent exhibition but also among the collective of artists during their nine day residency at a remote eco-lodge in Benslimane. Questions of identity seem to be of immense importance to young Moroccans, who look for reference while setting up their lives. They reflect on the cultural and geographical identity of Morocco as a country on the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Arab World. They reflect on different and sometimes contradictory role models promoted by Arab and Berber culture; and most importantly, they reflect on different lifestyles and ideals of self-fulfilment.
All the different influences and reflections contribute to Morocco being a culturally enormously rich and diverse country. However, this diversity is not always on display and sometimes hidden by supposed standards, which can make young Moroccans feel confused or inadequate. By exposing and embracing the magnificent diversity of Moroccan society, Bayt Al Fenn tries to question supposed standards and to encourage young people to live and flourish their way.
Visual artist Ilyesse Nouhi captured the plurality of lifestyles in Morocco by creating a rotatable, wheel-shaped collage, which has so much detail in it, that observers often kept studying it for minutes. They were likely to draw a similar conclusion than the artist himself: “Differences do not spoil conviviality”.
Plastic artist Aicha Abou created one of the flashiest and definitively the heaviest art piece, a colourful sculpture of a Berber woman, displaying traditional Berber tattoos, evoking the self-confidence, independence and power of women in traditional Berber societies.
Multi-talented Anass Doujdid contributed an element of entertainment and surprise with his stop-motion video, which recounts all the ceremonial elements and stages of a Moroccan wedding using only traditional items found on a local market. The final frame pictures a drop of blood on a napkin, leaving little margin for interpretation to the observer.
These are just three out of eleven examples of how emerging Moroccan artists responded to the question of “Who am I?”. Art is always a powerful language, but in Morocco even more so. The country is a jumble of languages. Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Classical Arabic, Tamazigh (Berber), French and even Spanish and English work until some extent, but no single language is the key to the Kingdom. If there were such a universally spoken language, it might be art. Handicraft and artwork have been constituting Moroccan culture for centuries and are being appreciated globally. Today, traditional disciplines like painting, music or architecture co-exist productively with modern expressions like rap, graffiti or poetry slam in the Moroccan art scene. Music festivals exist aplenty and old medinas are nowadays full of street art murals. Bayt Al Fenn builds on this tradition, providing young artists with a platform and promoting the values of diversity and inclusion.
Bayt Al Fenn’s 2022 edition “Chkoun Ana?” will remain digitally accessible to visitors under www.baytalfenn.org. You can also follow Bayt Al Fenn on Instagram and Facebook, check out past editions or suggest a theme for 2023.