Migration and Mentorship: the Case of Abdelaziz Mouride

15 August, 2021
“Journey to the Abyss” (of illegal migration), a collaborative comic strip between master cartoonist Abdelaziz Mouride and his student, Ismaïl Ezzeroual
“Jour­ney to the Abyss” (of ille­gal migra­tion), a col­lab­o­ra­tive com­ic strip between mas­ter car­toon­ist Abde­laz­iz Mouride and his stu­dent, Ismaïl Ezzeroual

Aomar Boum

A Congolese comic strip warned against illegal immigration.
A Con­golese com­ic strip warned against ille­gal immigration.

Migra­tion remains one of the most chal­leng­ing issues that face Mid­dle East­ern and North African coun­tries. Moroc­co con­tin­ues to encounter unique host­ing chal­lenges as tens of thou­sands of sub-Saha­ran African immi­grants and Mid­dle East­ern refugees set­tle in its cities for short- or long-term peri­ods as they wait for oppor­tu­ni­ties to tran­sit to Europe. Moroc­co is bound by its bilat­er­al secu­ri­ty agree­ment with the Euro­pean Union to police both its youth and for­eign nation­als who attempt to emi­grate to Europe. Ille­gal migra­tion as a phe­nom­e­non has spurred vibrant respons­es from writ­ers, film­mak­ers and artists in Moroc­co and beyond.

Ille­gal immi­gra­tion (local­ly know as H’rig) has not escaped an emerg­ing move­ment of comics in Africa. In 2007 a group of Con­golese artists sound­ed the alarm about the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of ille­gal migra­tion through a pub­li­ca­tion Là-bas… Na Poto… Pub­lished by the Bel­gium house Les Croix-Rouge and the Gov­ern­ment of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Repub­lic of Con­go, 125,000 copies of this col­lab­o­ra­tive work were dis­trib­uted to the gen­er­al pub­lic for free. The idea behind the com­ic book was to edu­cate the gen­er­al Con­golese pub­lic about the expe­ri­ence of migra­tion and the toll it takes on both indi­vid­u­als and nations. Na Poto (mean­ing Europe in Lin­gala) is not an El Dora­do as many Africans believe, but rather a space of per­son­al, social and eco­nom­ic strug­gle. With­out deny­ing the exis­tence of few cas­es of suc­cess­ful African immi­grants in their host coun­tries, these Con­golese artists cau­tion youth about the dan­ger of leav­ing the com­fort of home unless the rea­son they wish to relo­cate is to com­plete their education.

Dur­ing a com­ic fes­ti­val in Algiers, Jean-François Chan­son, a French illus­tra­tor who set­tled in Moro­co and opt­ed to col­lab­o­rate with indige­nous North African artists and express the pri­ma­ry con­cern of the region, learned about this edu­ca­tion­al ini­tia­tive to use graph­ics to edu­cate African youth about the mirage of migra­tion and decid­ed to repro­duce a ver­sion of this project in Moroc­co. Chan­son, who is known by his pen name Mostapha Ogh­nia, teach­es physics at Lycée Descartes in Rabat. He is a French artist who has pub­lished sev­er­al children’s books by Édi­tions Yomad, name­ly Le Pois­son d’or du Chel­lah, Hicham et le djinn du noy­er and Les leg­ends de Casablan­ca. He pub­lished his first com­ic books Maroc Fatal (2007) and Nou­velles Mau­res (2008) with Milou­di Nouiga (Édi­tions Nouiga). In 2010 he pub­lished anoth­er com­ic book Tajine de Lapin in French, Moroc­can Dar­i­ja dialect and Tamazight. With Saïd Bouf­tass, a pro­fes­sor of fine arts at the Insti­tut Nation­al des Beaux-Arts in Tetouan, Ogh­nia co-found­ed Alber­ti, the first com­pa­ny that spe­cial­izes in the pub­li­ca­tion of comics in Moroc­co or North Africa.

Influ­enced by the Con­golese project Là-bas… Na Poto… Ogh­nia invit­ed a num­ber of artists in Moroc­co to con­tribute to a series of comics on migra­tion. Pub­lished by Nouiga in 2010 in a col­lec­tion with con­tri­bu­tions titled La tra­ver­sée dans l’enfer du H’rig, this col­lec­tive com­ic book includ­ed three con­tri­bu­tions by Abde­laz­iz Mouride, along with his stu­dents Mali­ka Dahil, Ismaïl Ezze­r­oual and Issam Bis­satri; and they are respec­tive­ly enti­tled “Mirages,” “Virée vers les Abysses” (Jour­ney to the Abyss) and “Au Village.”

While the work includ­ed some of the lead­ing names of graph­ics in Moroc­co and Africa such Afif Khaled, Lar­bi Baba­ha­di, Milou­di Nouiga, Ahmed Nouaiti and Mohammed Are­j­dal, the artis­tic work co-signed by Mouride caught my atten­tion par­tic­u­lar­ly for its men­tor­ing and ped­a­gog­i­cal aspects. The first thing one observes about these pieces is the fact that in all of them Mouride is the sec­ond author. Although a very famous artist, Mouride’s name is sec­ond to his stu­dents’ to show that a new gen­er­a­tion men­tored by him is here to lead a new cul­ture of comics in Moroc­co. The sec­ond aspect is ped­a­gog­i­cal and it per­tains to the fact that the works depict migra­tion as an illu­sion and a fan­ta­sy that is sup­posed to change people’s lives like a mag­ic wand, but in real­i­ty does not.

A found­ing mem­ber of the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist Group 23 March Move­ment at the end of the 1960s, Mouride was arrest­ed in 1974 and con­demned to more than twen­ty years in jail. In prison he clan­des­tine­ly drew his dai­ly thoughts in soli­tary con­fine­ment and suc­ceed­ed to hide them from his guards. In 2001 he was able to pub­lish his jail work under the title On affame bien les rats (Édi­tions Tarik & Édi­tions Paris Méditer­ranée). Unlike many polit­i­cal pris­on­ers who opt­ed for the medi­um of prison nar­ra­tives, Mouride chose the BD (ban­des dess­inées, or com­ic strips). After his release he joined the École des Beaux-Arts in Casablan­ca as a pro­fes­sor. In 2004, he launched with his stu­dents the first BD jour­nal titled Bled’Art; it had a short life and saw the release of only a few issues.

The first piece titled “Mirages” is co-authored by Mali­ka Dahil. It shows four under­aged girls in a room mak­ing a car­pet under the watch of an old woman. The artist’s focus zooms in on the face of one of the female work­ers, and then her eyes, which leads to a set of images of the girl in Paris in a roman­tic rela­tion­ship before the male lover dis­ap­pears and the girl falls into a melan­cholic state. The dream is inter­rupt­ed by the old lady pulling the girl’s hair and ask­ing her to resume and focus on her work. This pow­er­ful com­ic sheds light on dif­fer­ent social issues, includ­ing under­aged girls in the labor mar­ket and the imag­i­nary view North Africans have of Paris and Europe in gen­er­al. The fact that the girls are mak­ing car­pets prob­a­bly for Euro­pean tourists adds anoth­er lay­er of mean­ing to the comics, in that they show the eco­nom­ic uneven­ness between Europe and Africa. Dahil’s choice of a female char­ac­ter high­lights her con­scious­ness about the absence of comics that rep­re­sent women in or and migration.

The sec­ond piece, “Virée vers les Abysses” is co-signed by Ismaïl Ezze­r­oual and Mouride. It high­lights a dif­fer­ent style of draw­ing and focus­es on a group of migrants in a boat in the mid­dle of the Mediter­ranean sea, argu­ing about the cry of a baby, water, etc, before their boat cap­sizes and they drown. This com­ic strip deploys a motif that has been already cov­ered in lit­er­a­ture by Laila Lalami’s Hope and Oth­er Dan­ger­ous Pur­suits (2005) and which attempts to imag­ine what hap­pens on a boat filled with immi­grants who all seek to sur­vive to make it to the oth­er side. The scene ends with a tele­vi­sion news report on the event and a quick shift to a sports update, thus reduc­ing a rich sto­ry to a head­line in the news.

au village de issam billatri and a mouride.jpg The third piece is titled “Au Vil­lage” by Issam Bis­satri and Mouride. It is not just poten­tial immi­grants who live the mirage of immi­gra­tion as a source of social pro­mo­tion. Their fam­i­ly mem­bers also par­tic­i­pate in sus­tain­ing the illu­sion of migra­tion as if it were a mag­ic wand. Bissati’s and Mouride’s piece describes the illog­i­cal expec­ta­tion of fam­i­lies from their ille­gal migrants. The comics describes a moth­er wait­ing for her son to change her life, to pay her debt and achieve a new social sta­tus in the vil­lage, only to find out that he nev­er made it to Italy. The suc­cess of this col­lec­tive work should not, how­ev­er, hide the chal­lenge of mak­ing comics in Moroc­co and the Mid­dle East in gen­er­al, even with men­tor­ship and insti­tu­tion­al sup­port. While Mouride man­aged to build a net­work of artists with Ogh­nia, Nouiga and oth­ers, the process of build­ing a comics cul­ture in Moroc­co is slowed down by the bur­den­some finan­cial cost of mak­ing and pub­lish­ing them. Sup­port to artists usu­al­ly comes from their own pri­vate net­works, which do not have end­less resources. On an insti­tu­tion­al lev­el, the gains made by BD pub­li­ca­tions in Ara­bic, French, Tamazight and Dar­i­ja have yet to cap­ture the atten­tion of the Moroc­can min­istries of edu­ca­tion and cul­ture. It is high time these two min­istries tapped into the rich land­scapes of artis­tic skills that exist in Moroc­co and draw upon them to cap­ture dif­fer­ent social, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic themes like migra­tion with the pur­pose to expand the medi­um of edu­ca­tion­al resources to the large audi­ence of young Moroc­can and North African pop­u­la­tions in their diverse languages.

Ogh­nia and Mouride were able to adjust to these chal­lenges by cre­at­ing a rela­tion­ship with­in Nouiga and oth­er pri­vate pub­lish­ers and donors who believe in the pow­er of comics to edu­cate. They helped train and sup­port a gen­er­a­tion of artists who are fill­ing the artis­tic void today. Yet with­out sus­tain­able insti­tu­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions, the work of Mouride will con­tin­ue to be a drop of water in a desert of offi­cial neglect of the com­ic indus­try in Mid­dle East and North Africa.

Abdelaziz Mouridebandes dessinéesgraphic novelsMorocco

Aomar Boum (guest editor, COMIX) is a cultural anthropologist at UCLA, where he is Maurice Amado Chair in Sephardic Studies and Professor in the Department of Anthropology. He is the author of Memories of Absence: How Muslims Remember Jews in Morocco, and the coauthor of The Holocaust and North Africa as well as A Concise History of the Middle East (2018) and most recently, with Mohamed Daadaoui, the coauthor of the Historical Dictionary of the Arab Uprisings (2020). He is currently working with Nadjib Berber on a graphic novel of European refugees in Vichy camps in North Africa during the Second World War. He was born and raised in the oasis of Mhamid, Foum Zguid in the Province of Tata, Morocco.