This issue marks the start of a six-quarter cycle of the Virtual Gallery that spotlights artists from the Maghreb leading up to the 2014 edition of the Marrakech Biennial. Each subsequent gallery will showcase artists who deal with the every day in their work to reveal the conceptual threads and regional connections that underlie the expanding North African art scene. Following Sebti’s focus on Morocco, Yasmina Reggad (/A.R.I.A/) will tackle Algeria in The Economy of Hope [Working Title], Wafa Gabsi will address Tunisia in The Daily Route and Alya Sebti and Holiday Powers will further explore the intricacies of art in the Maghreb with Poetics of the Everyday.
“Where are we now?”
This central question is the theme of the next Marrakech Biennale (February 2014). Created in 2004, the Marrakech Biennale is the first Biennale in the Maghreb region and it emerged as an important indicator of what is happening in the region and what is to come. By grounding the Biennale in Marrakech, we are drawing a new map that situates Marrakech’s subjective perspective in the center and traces the axis of influence through concentric circles that encompass the cultural terrain throughout North Africa. Through the ArteEast series of exhibitions focus on Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, we will investigate the the three concepts raised by the Marrakech Biennale’s theme, “Where are we now?” The present, the space and the community.
As artistic director of the Marrakech Biennale, I was invited by ArteEast to curate this series of exhibitions with a focus on the Maghreb. I proposed an analysis of one specific aspect of the Marrakech Biennale topic through “the now” and subsequently raise the question “what is the now made of?” Our starting hypothesis: The now is made out of the everyday.
The ArteEast online series will comprise six exhibitions released every three months between 2012 and 2014, and is a unique way to elaborate potential answers to this question by creating the very first online laboratory highlighting and analyzing axes of influence between three countries, Morocco Algeria and Tunisia, which are contained within Marrakech’s narrowest concentric geographic circle. Across this landscape, the starting hypothesis is “the now is made up of the everyday.”
We are witnessing a growing art scene in an increasingly active area that, unlike the Middle East, is not considered a cultural center. The Maghreb is often simply defined as the countries of North Africa situated west of Egypt, but this narrowly defined definition belies the vivid scene within its respective countries.
In fact, many local initiatives have emerged in this region. Modern and contemporary art museums like the MAMA (Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain d’Alger),naugurated in 2007 in Algiers or the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain du Maroc which is planned for 2013 in Rabat. We can also see major and relevant exhibitions such as Dream City visual art festival in the public space in Tunis whose second edition was held this September and Chkoun Ahna at Carthage museum curated by Khadija Hamdi and Timo Kaabi-Linke in May 2012, in Tunis. This growth is combined with the appearance of international art fairs including the Marrakech Art Fair created in 2010, the FIAC (Festival International d’Art Contemporain) created in Algiers in 2009 and Le Printemps Des Arts created in June 2012 Tunis which has recently gained notoriety for the chaos provoked by the misrepresentation of two exhibited artworks.[i]
On the other hand, there are also non commercial initiatives dedicated to alternative production and education: publications like the art magazine Diptyk created in 2010 in Morocco, art centers such as La source du Lion in Casablanca or Bchira, an art center in Tunis. In addition, artist driven initiatives comprise residencies like /A.R.I.A/ in Algiers and Dar Al Ma’mun in Marrakech. In January 2012, Wafa Gabsi organized a talk at the Delfina Foundation in London dedicated to the contemporary art scene in the Maghreb, and initiated a dialogue about the process of structuring a network for contemporary art in this region and encouraging transnational exchanges by increasing awareness of the conditions of artistic local production and the difficulties faced with the local structures (i.e. local institutions, governments, funding issues…) in the Maghreb.
The Marrakech Biennale, which aims to create an alternative platform for cultural diffusion with newly commissioned artworks produced in Morocco follows this trend of non commercial initiatives dedicated to production and education.
In some ways these initiatives function like islands: isolated and autonomous. Yet they continue to leverage their affiliations with cultural centers around the world, and build their connections dialogically through the nodes of Paris, London, New York, Geneva and Berlin. These dialogues are notably conducted via people originally from the Maghreb: Casablanca to Paris, Paris to Tunis, Tunis to Berlin, Berlin to Algiers, Algiers to London, London to Marrakech.
For instance, one of the first international events dedicated to this region’s flux was the exhibition Maghreb Connection, Movements of life across North Africa curated by Ursula Biemann in 2007 in Cairo and Geneva. The latest example was the 2012 Paris Triennale: Intense Proximity. This major event was curated by Okwui Enwezor with a team of co-curators, among them the Moroccan Abdellah Karroum, The triennial also exhibited a number of artists from the Maghreb region and its diaspora (Yto Barrada, Younès Rahmoun, Bouchra Khalili, Batoul S’himi, Adel Abdessemed, Ali Essafi, Selma and Sofiane Ouissi,) but it has also recreated the festival dedicated to young Algerian filmmakers un été à Alger. Since this festival only existed virtually for six weeks, the Paris Triennale offered a unique platform for further dissemination.
Through the ArteEast Gallery and this series of exhibitions entitled focus on Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, I will investigate the idea of a Maghreb art scene with respect to this grouping of islands. Here I draw on the concept of the Archipelago created by E. Glissant to reveal possible axes of influence as well as attempts to expose structural differences: “…the relationship as recognition and exploration of the diversity of cultures and their individuality without trying to make them transparent and predictable, the relative opacity of cultures to be preserved at all costs.” (Glissant, 1981)[ii]
. As Brigitte Dodu asserts in her analysis of Glissant’s theory: the Caribbean archipelago is a geological group welded by invisible but submarines ties, it is also a cultural group clouded by the many colonial situations depending on the islands concerned. Similarly, invisible but strong links connect more cultures across the continents [iii].
focus on Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia is an opportunity to establish a dialogue on this theme amongst three of these islands: I will investigate the Moroccan art scene via the Marrakech Biennale, the artist residency /A.R.I.A./ founded by Zineb Sedira and Yasmina Reggad will study the Algerian art scene, and Wafa Gabsi, PhD researcher on contemporary southern mediterranean artists, will show the works of artists from Tunisia. It will be a unique laboratory to reveal horizontal relationship between the three countries speaking directly to one another by putting in practice the “pensée archipélique” of Glissant.
Instead of relying on a binary system (to be or not to be Arab for instance), we inquire where we are standing now in order to define the position of the island in the archipelago according to a grid and myriad connections with other cultural islands. Within this archipelago, I will focus on the Marrakech Biennale-Island and will draw on my perspective as Artistic Director to analyze this particular mapping from the necessarily subjective perspective that Marrakech offers, via the theme “Where are we now?”
One of the main questions raised by this theme is “What is the now made of?” The main thread that will lead this cycle is the theme of present, studied through the prism of the everyday.
We will compare the practices of contemporary artists who originate from these countries and analyze the existence of potential networks in visual arts by studying how is that “the now is made out of the everyday.” This series of six exhibitions will develop this theme from different points of view, from the particularities to the collective. We will raise the following questions:
“Are there similarities in how to address the everyday?”
“Are there similarities in their artistic expression?”
The choice to study the present through the everyday responds to several recurring themes in representations of the Maghreb.
First of all, The everyday as opposed to the emergency. Although there is an urgency to denounce the threatening and retrograde reactions to art such as the uprising following “Le Printemps des Arts” in Tunis or the use of the expression “L’Art propre” by a state attorney in Morocco, I have deliberately chosen to analyze the now through the everyday rather than the emergency.
The reason for this is a will to distance ourselves from the events of the so called “Arab Spring.” As a result, it involves a slight withdrawal in order to better reflect on them. By trying to get rid of superficial labels hastily stamped with “Arab Spring”, this presentation tends to analyze the more indirect consequences of these events. It is a presentation of more indirect consequences of these events ridding themselves of such hurried labels.
Secondly, the everyday can be a platform of resistance. As Michel de Certeau described in “L’invention du quotidien,” it is a subversion from within and from the base of the system, the ability to recognize the autonomy and freedom of individuals. This theme will be further developed in the first exhibition: Younes Baba Ali, Activist of the Everyday.
Finally, this prism can be addressed from various angles and it encompasses a broader vision that can certainly handle the tension between each of these poles, but it also enables us to contend with the other perspective. For instance the second exhibition will be dedicated to a manifesto of the ordinary in order to reveal fascinating component of our everyday life: “Zineb Andress Arraki et Hicham Berrada, to reveal the infra ordinary[iv]
Once we uncover the independent perspectives of the everyday in the first four exhibitions, we will gather the curatorial choices and launch a fifth exhibition which will be a collective exhibition, gathering the art scenes from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and connecting the theme of everyday and space under the topic Mapping of the Everyday.
Finally, the sixth and last exhibition in this cycle represents a collaboration of the curators who will assemble artistic work Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia as it pertains to themes of community and the everyday. This final exhibition will take place at the start of 2014 and will coincide with the opening date of the Marrakech Biennale 5 in February 2014.
A triangulated link will then be established through collective exhibition of artists from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia connecting the themes of the everyday and the space through the topic “Mapping of the Everyday” and then in a second and final collective exhibition connecting the themes of the everyday and the community.
This Gallery of exhibitions is a unique platform, experimenting through these themes the networks that are being elaborated between Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia but also a unique occasion to develop new ones which I hope may emerge during the Marrakech Biennale.
Alya Sebti is the Artistic Director of the 5th Marrakech Biennale and curator specialized in contemporary art from North Africa.
After obtaining a Masters Degree in Management (ESC Reims), she studied Art History at l’Ecole du Louvre followed by a postgraduate studies degree in Contemporary Art Market, at IESA. In 2009, she worked at the management of Paris Photo Fair, which edition, curated by Catherine David, was dedicated to the Arab Countries and Iran. Then, she joined Art Holding Morocco as manager of “International Contemporary Art” in the auction house CMOOA, the art gallery HD, the Diptyk magazine and Marrakech Art Fair. Her latest exhibitions as an independent curator include: Fashion Loves Tribe (Berlin 2010), Reza Aramesh solo exhibition (Rabat, 2010), Meriem Bouderbala solo exhibition (Rabat, 2010), Zoulikha Bouabdellah solo show (Rabat, 2011) Youssef Nabil solo exhibition (Casablanca, 2011), Urban landscape (Moroccan pavilion of the Amsterdam Photography Biennale, 2012), Des Espaces Autres (Al Hoceima, Casablanca, 2012).
PhD researcher and literature teacher at Université de Starsbourg.