Three Ways to See Morocco from Across the Mediterranean

26 September, 2022
 
Europe’s largest Arab performing arts festival welcomes younger artists working in diverse media.

 

Nora Ounnas Leroy

 

Every year now, the Fes­ti­val Arabesques brings a rich ros­ter of per­form­ing and oth­er artists to Mont­pel­li­er, with a view to lead­ing the dia­logue of cul­tures between civ­i­liza­tions. One night, I ven­tured over to the Halle Tro­pisme, a large arts and entre­pre­neur­ial com­plex, to attend what the fes­ti­val called an “incu­ba­tor” between two cities, Casablan­ca (com­mon­ly known as “Casa”) and Mont­pel­li­er. Here I met three young emerg­ing Moroc­can artists in the LEADART incu­ba­tor, pre­sent­ed with the Arabesques Sound Sys­tem. LEADART serves to devel­op artis­tic and cul­tur­al exchanges on the theme of urban arts — our three artists were invit­ed for a week of artis­tic res­i­den­cy at the Halle Tropisme.

Jad Mouride is a 29-year-old dig­i­tal artist who lives in Casablan­ca. After study­ing jour­nal­ism and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, he became a mul­ti­me­dia design­er of image and sound, cre­at­ing map­ping for var­i­ous shows and fes­ti­vals, but also 3D ani­ma­tions and gen­er­a­tive art visu­als. He has also been a musi­cian for ten years and hosts DJ sets accom­pa­nied by inter­ac­tive pro­jec­tions with the col­lec­tive KUSSUF (“eclipse”).

His “jack-of-all-trades” approach and the diver­si­ty of media he mas­ters allow him to deal in an orig­i­nal and exhaus­tive way with sub­jects such as the human con­di­tion in rela­tion to new tech­nolo­gies, sur­veil­lance, and taboos result­ing from urban development.

He sug­gests that he is at the fore­front of “the begin­nings of a new art, com­bin­ing the phys­i­cal, the vir­tu­al and the hybrid that cre­ate the equa­tion of the phys­i­cal world.”

His work “Khazablanca,”for instance, takes its name from a play on words between “Casablan­ca” and “Khaza” which means “lichens” or “molds.” It is a co-cre­ation with Sal­i­ma Dhaibi, an actress who came up in the Casa the­atre and per­for­mance art scene. “Khaz­ablan­ca” offers “a sub­jec­tive look at the bru­tal­i­ty of human inter­ac­tions,” Mouride says. “It is a city in con­stant construction/destruction. Casablan­ca is vio­lent but also poet­ic. It illus­trates the social oxy­moron par excellence.”

Mouride explains that con­struc­tion in Casablan­ca, in 1912, of the first large mod­ern port in the Moroc­can king­dom marked a deci­sive and his­toric turn­ing point in the eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment of the coun­try, but also in its soci­etal struc­ture. Thanks to nation­al and for­eign invest­ments, Casa quick­ly became an indus­tri­al cap­i­tal, cre­at­ing in the wake of its growth as much suc­cess and joy as inequal­i­ty and despair.

In his work, Mouride address­es issues such as the dif­fer­ences in pop­u­la­tion den­si­ty. The bour­geois neigh­bor­hoods, once reserved for French set­tlers, are still those with the low­est pop­u­la­tion density.

“It is impor­tant to know that it was in Casablan­ca that the first shan­ty towns were cre­at­ed in the 1930s,” he explains, “increas­ing the gap between rich and poor, between those who have every­thing and large spaces to live and those who live on each oth­er with little.”

His work also under­lines the impor­tance and the resur­gence of mag­i­cal rit­u­als. The indi­vid­ual, hav­ing lost his bear­ings in an urban space designed essen­tial­ly for work, seeks his bal­ance, his deliverance.

 

Mohamed Amine Ait Ham­mou presents the Moroc­can mon­ey game, Swirti, at Halle Tro­pisme, Mont­pel­li­er (pho­tos Nao­mi Bernard).

 

Mohamed Amine Ait Ham­mou is a stage design­er, direc­tor and video artist. He is 37 and lives in Tang­iers. After attend­ing the École des Beaux-Arts in Tetouan, he stud­ied dra­mat­ic art and then enrolled in the École Supérieure des Arts Visuels of Mar­rakech. Today, he cre­ates the­ater sets, video map­ping and offers us, as part of LEADART, an inter­ac­tive instal­la­tion inspired by a pop­u­lar mon­ey game in Moroc­can fairs called Swirti.

It is a ques­tion of reach­ing, with coins, a cutout of Moroc­co float­ing above a world map. When you throw the coin, you write your dear­est wish in a white book, arranged for this pur­pose. All these wish­es, dreams and desires will then be pub­lished in The Book of Hope. This instal­la­tion, as child­ish as it may seem, rais­es above all the ques­tion of pub­lic space. How to share, appro­pri­ate, or re-invent pub­lic space in a city where it is not allowed to be mentioned?

“My favorite themes are hope and dis­il­lu­sion­ment. Why do we leave our coun­try instead of real­iz­ing our dreams at home? Why do we look else­where, and often far away, when we have every­thing under our feet?” Amine Ait Ham­mou wonders.

In the same vein of reflec­tion, he has con­duct­ed work­shops with the Amer­i­can Cul­tur­al Cen­ter or with pro­fes­sion­al Moroc­can actors. In par­tic­u­lar, he ques­tions the ide­al of beau­ty: “Why are we all dressed in West­ern fash­ion, rather than wear­ing our tra­di­tion­al clothes, which are much more prac­ti­cal and comfortable?”

He orga­nizes a fash­ion show with clothes recov­ered from thrift stores. He stages the par­tic­i­pants who impro­vise as mod­els for the game, for the plea­sure of rein­vent­ing them­selves. Mohamed Amine Ait Ham­mou, in his cre­ations, bor­rows from his almost child­like curios­i­ty, of seem­ing naiveté, behind which there is a deep reflec­tion and an immense ten­der­ness towards his contemporaries.


 

 

Leila Cab, from her series “Casablan­ca by the Sea” (cour­tesy Dune Mag­a­zine).

 

Leila Cab is a French Moroc­can direc­tor and pho­tog­ra­ph­er. She is 27 and lives in Paris. With her train­ing in polit­i­cal sci­ence and urban plan­ning, she expe­ri­enced “a soci­o­log­i­cal will to map the world,” but her artis­tic soul devi­at­ed from that ini­tial path and she began direct­ing music videos and worked in the cin­e­ma as an assis­tant director.

Leila Cab at Halle Tro­pisme in Mont­pel­li­er (pho­to Nora Oun­nas Leroy).

In 2020, she decid­ed to trav­el to Moroc­co alone, with her thirst for dis­cov­ery and unex­pect­ed encoun­ters. In search of under­stand­ing and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with a part of her ori­gins, she trav­eled around the coun­try by train. When she arrived in Casablan­ca, it was love at first sight: “It’s a very open city, very frontal. You see a lot of inequal­i­ties but there is no hypocrisy. Things and peo­ple are as they are, every­one is very frank. In that sense, Casa has a very punk spirit…”

“The his­to­ry of the con­struc­tion of Casa is close­ly linked to that of France. At the time of French dom­i­na­tion, urban poli­cies were first test­ed and stud­ied in Casablan­ca before being reim­port­ed and adapt­ed in France,” Cab explains.

For the LEADART project, Leila exhib­it­ed a series of pho­tos, like urban obser­va­tions of her favorite Moroc­can city.

“I need­ed to doc­u­ment the city obses­sive­ly. I only take sil­ver pho­tos. This way I feel more alive, more an actor of what is cre­at­ed, of what is played out between my obser­va­tion, my sub­jec­tiv­i­ty and reality.

“With film, you can’t take hun­dreds of pho­tos, the instan­ta­neous dimen­sion makes you more alert, more con­cen­trat­ed, more atten­tive to your­self and to others.”

It’s clear that Leila is a film­mak­er by tem­pera­ment and her pho­tos are in fact the draft of a doc­u­men­tary film project. She is inter­est­ed in cap­tur­ing the urban changes from the point of view of the inhab­i­tants. Above all, her idiom is to com­mu­ni­cate, to meet, to share, to lis­ten, to con­nect. The par­tic­i­pa­tive dimen­sion is cru­cial for her. She is a pho­tog­ra­ph­er by pas­sion but can just as eas­i­ly dis­trib­ute dis­pos­able cam­eras to locals and col­lect oth­er points of view/angles of view/shots than her own. Her vision is clear in her 2022 pho­to­graph­ic series “Casablan­ca by the Sea.”

Find Leila Cab on Insta­gram.

 

Nora Ounnas Leroy is a Franco-Algerian photojournalist of Egyptian and Italian heritage based in Montpellier. She has worked in communications and is also a writer, composer and vocalist. She has previously worked in film and television, knows her way around the contemporary art scene, and has dabbled in alternative energies and local development.

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