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Between art, fashion and architecture, Morocco reconnects with its African identity

Samia Tawil

By Samia Tawil06 octobre 2022

For the past decade, Morocco seems to be reconnecting with its Africanness; a liberating process of which art is at the forefront.

Alo Wala, from his photographic series "My Rockstars", by Hassan Hajjaj, 2015 (DR)

In a context of economic expansion that has intensified since 2016, Morocco is increasingly turning to its West African neighbors, in a perspective of trans-Saharan cohesion. The construction of an expressway linking northern Morocco to West Africa, coupled with gigantic projects on the southern border - including a 1,650-hectare West Africa industrial-logistics zone - confirm this trend.

Is this a purely strategic move? Although King Mohammed VI has shown a clear ambition to strengthen the kingdom's industrial ecosystem through this regionalization, a co-emergence is taking place in any case. It is therefore a matter of seeing, through the symbolism of this expansion, a way of transcending the consequences of a heavy history, caught between colonialism and fractured identities. Morocco's identity is hybrid and fundamentally African, from its first Berber inhabitants to its Gnaoua heritage - a culture born of trans-Saharan slavery from Ghana and Guinea to the Maghreb. Within it, Bambara dialects and Sufi injunctions are united in songs of freedom, like an exorcism of the pains of another time reminding us of what must not be forgotten. It is also from this angle that this expansion makes sense. It is still necessary to ensure that the investments and interests of France, China and the Emirates, major investors in technology and luxury, do not undermine the process by bogging down these impulses in a potential form of financial neocolonialism.



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Art as a voice of a repaired History

Yet it is in the field of art that this African pride has been apparent for several years. The Museum of Contemporary African Art in Marrakech (MACAAL), inaugurated on the occasion of the Cop22 in 2007, had already showcased cultural mixes in its first exhibition, "Essentiel Paysage", a title based on a poem by Aimé Césaire opening not only the debate on the relationship of African peoples to the environment, but also, more subtly, on the relationship between the earth and oneself, as if to awaken awareness of a link so basic, visceral, and yet for too long denied.

Equipped with a traveling studio, the late photographer Leila Alaoui had also contributed to bringing to light these buried African roots. The richness of this multifaceted heritage can be seen in her series of portraits taken between 2010 and 2014 in various remote regions of Morocco, a series through which the artist reminds us of the cultural hybridization intrinsic to the region. A series where the glances create bridges, enjoining Moroccans to review their own definition. Roaming also returns in the work "Crossings", in 2013, an immersive video installation addressing migration and the feeling of freedom that we owe to ourselves. A process that one must perhaps have the courage to undertake, thus warding off a certain form of fatality by moving towards the other.

The Yves Saint Laurent museum in Marrakech, inaugurated in 2017 (Dan Glasser)

The inauguration of the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in 2017 had also marked this desire to affirm a pan-African identity. Its architecture is reminiscent of the Adobe buildings typical of the Moroccan south, as well as the troglodyte huts of Ouagadougou. A complex plurality, a quasi-mystical universality that Yves Saint Laurent himself had been able to grasp from the culture of this region where worlds intertwine.

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