Moroccan Paintings 1950-2020

Farid Belkahia, Warriors

This sweeping survey of the culture of Morocco and Moroccan paintings from the 1950s to the present day is a unique collaboration with Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art – Qatar Museums and Qatar Foundation. Moroccan Trilogy 1950-2020 features more than 250 paintings by 60 artists, including a series of important works from the collection of Mathaf, as well as archival material drawn from private and public collections. The exhibition presents a visual dialogue that reflects artistic production at three historical moments from independence to the present day.

Divided into three chapters, using historical timeframes defined by major societal shifts, the exhibition examines the interdisciplinary domains of art, literature, film, architecture, theatre, and music and their personal and professional networks. Each chapter of the trilogy is intended to provide a non-exhaustive historical reading of these diverse, interconnected forms of expression, both intellectual and artistic, the generations of artists, and their relationship to socio-political struggles for freedom. Through artwork, archives, and publications, this exhibition provides a new expanded framework for reading art histories in Morocco that is non-linear, transnational, and political.

Moroccan Painting During the Struggle for Independence

The first chapter, looking at Moroccan modern art, covers the period 1950-1969, during the struggle for independence and following 40 years of French and Spanish colonial rule, presenting historical works that defined new tendencies of anti-colonial art practices in the 1960s, including a radical revision of the Fine Art Schools with a futurist perspective. After 40 years under the French and Spanish protectorate, the first period covers an extremely agitated phase that extends from the years of independence until 1969. During that time, the artistic field was articulated around the debates aroused by the appearance of the nationalist movement and the imperious need to construct a discourse of identity. These two aspects made up the conceptual background to modern Moroccan art in the 1960s and 1970s, when artists started to question the traditional artistic academicism transmitted through art teaching in Morocco.

Artists in this section of Moroccan modern art include Farid Belkahia (1934-2014), one of Morocco’s most important artists of the post-independence era. Trained in Prague and Warsaw, he worked primarily with traditional techniques, he draws on the cultural heritage of Morocco in his work – painting, metalwork and leather. Avant-garde for his time, he remains an imposing figure in the history of Moroccan modern art and a leader in Casablanca’s fine arts school in the 1960s. Chaibia Talal (1929-2004), was a self-taught artist, who looked at women in society through her personal experience and depicted life scenes from her village in a unique way that made her conquer the top echelons of the international art world. Mohamed Melehi (1936-2020) consistently contributed to the Moroccan art scene from independence until his passing in 2020 at age 83.

Years of Lead

The second period of Moroccan paintings covered is from 1970-1999, and encompasses the so-called Years of Lead, and is among the most violent in Morocco’s recent history, including the uprisings of 1981 and 1984 as a consequence of the political and economic crisis. These were years of great internal conflict, there emerged a constellation of alternative publications, festivals and biennials, often independent. The voice of dissidence, especially active in literature, poetry and theatre, was spread through the magazine Souffles, until it was banned in 1972, and after that through Intégral and Lamalif. Also appearing in that period is a non-academic and non-intellectualised art represented by self-taught men and women with links to a living artistic dynamism, as in the case of Chaïbia Talal and Fatima Hassan.

Experimental Works in Moroccan Paintings

This chapter introduces Moroccan paintings some the most experimental works that remained for decades, as many artists and intellectuals worked in secret or adopted strategies of resistance to the market and the established podiums, while the state initiated art festivals in major cities. The 2nd Arab Biennial took place in Rabat in 1976, and was followed by the Asilah Festival, which is still taking place today for Moroccan paintings. Artists in this section include Mohammed Kacimi (1942-2003), who created work that reflects on the human condition and the struggle for freedom.

Latifa Toujani (b 1948) is among the feminist artists, who collaborated with feminist writer Fatima Mernissi, and participated in the artists’ encounters in the 1st Arab Biennial in Baghdad in 1974, and took part in a pan-Arab art event in solidarity with Palestine. Leila Kilani (b 1970), is a director, screen writer and producer who was born in Casablanca, creates films that reflect on the political and socio-economic nature of different places, often set in her home country. She is best known for her documentaries – Nos Lieux Interdits (2008) reveals aspects of this historical period in Morocco, and explores memory and trauma related to people’s disappearance and torture during the Years of Lead.

Contemporary Moroccan Paintings: 2000-2020

The third and final period covered, from 2000-2020, focuses on Moroccan contemporary paintings and the work of artists and activists, marking the rise of populist political parties, the Casablanca terrorist attacks in 2003 and the Arab Spring, defining an era of radical change, mass uprising and technological development. The generation of artists who emerged during this period broke away from their predecessors. The Generation 00 artists look at social realities with immediate and live updates about the world, work with new media practices, and operate in a post-internet world.  They created new spaces in Tangiers, Rabat, Casablanca and inspired a new generation of Moroccan artists and authors now working on a global scale.

Mounir Fatmi

Mounir Fatmi (b 1970) is an artist based in Paris, whose provocative installations address social, political and environmental issues. Fatmi employs a variety of unconventional media in his work, appropriating familiar objects such as VHS tapes and agal headbands – such as in his Aljazeera work – for use in conceptual narratives. Yto Barrada (b 1971) is an artist who creates art as a learning process. Her multi-paths practice is based on investigating urban life and their zones of uncertainty, ecologies and their creative gardening. She produces photographs, films, sculptures and installations that explore the social, political and historical conditions in her home city of Tangier.

Hicham Benohoud (b 1968) produces work that ranges from painting to new media, but photography occupies a central place in his interdisciplinary practice, making the link between identity politics and power relations. Younes Rahmoun (b 1975) is one of the most important Moroccan artists of Generation 00 that emerged internationally in the early 2000s. His artistic practice is inseparable from his religious and spiritual beliefs, his abstract works reveal his interest in repetition and meditation.

Yassine Balbzioui

Yassine Balbzioui (b 1972) plays with conventions and shifts between media, leading the viewer to question the notions of sincerity and society based on appearances. His Moroccan paintings are marked with animals and birds, comparing their similarities to human habits and characteristics. For this exhibition, Balbzioui has created a monumental wall painting with multiple scenes, a Don Quixote riding a zebra, a man sleeping with bananas, and a disproportionately long horse with multiple characters as fantasy riders.

Sara O’Haddou (b 1986) was born in France in an Amazigh family, and her work explores notions of heritage and transnational identities, through research and experiment between a quasi-scientific and poetic practice, addressing the challenges facing the artisan crafts communities around the world, including in Morocco and Japan. Safaa Erruas (b 1976), is a Moroccan artist known for her subversion of domestic materials and the presence of the colour white in her work.

Morroccan Paintings: The Outsiders

The exhibition also includes works by artists who worked as outsiders and developed unique and poetic vocabularies. Tangier was an international creative centre of the Beat Generation and anti-war movements, and has been a base for artists such as Khalil El Ghrib and Abbas Saladi. El Ghrib (b 1948) teaches in Tangier and lives in nearby Asilah, working with everyday and organic ephemera and found objects, such as bread and newspaper, to explore the degradation and decay of matter. Abbas Saladi (1950-1992)explored metaphysical universe through drawing and painting of his visions.

This exhibition of Moroccan paintings was organised within the framework of the programme for cultural cooperation between Spain and Morocco in the field of museums. A book accompanies the exhibition.

Moroccan Trilogy 1950-2020 runs until 27 September 2021, Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid