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Further is a traveling laboratory for experiential hospitality and collaborative culture launched in 2017 by Design Hotels. We transform hotels across the globe into temporal hubs of thematic exploration.

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Further

Rewriting the Archive

The Artist and The Artisan

  • Words Emily McDermott
  • Images Daniel Lober

M’Barek Bouhchichi is unlearning the Euro-centric history he was taught in favor of understanding and documenting his country’s context, history, and people through his artistic practice.

Moroccan artist M’Barek Bouhchichi addresses political and historical structures through poetic paintings, sculptures, photographs, and videos. Since moving to Tahanaout, a city just outside Marrakech, three years ago, he has worked closely with local artisans like Akid Abderrahim, who had just opened his own ceramic studio and began to challenge what Bouhchichi thought he knew. A process of unlearning was sparked and Bouhchichi has now come to understand that the separation between the “artist” and the “artisan” is a lasting effect of colonialism. Moreover, he realized that he, as an artist, has a responsibility to the context, history, and people of Morocco. During Further Marrakech: The Artist and the Artisan, we spoke with Bouhchichi—who is also on the committee that selects the artists invited to La Pause Residency—about these themes and the development of Morocco’s art scene.

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Bouhchichi created work in collaboration with Deborah Fischer, a French artist who was in residence at La Pause.

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Can you talk about the importance of bringing international artistic voices to the Agafay Desert and to Marrakech through residences like La Pause?

M’Barek Bouhchichi: Throughout history, objects, know-how, and materials traveled like humans, but with territories came the idea of having specializations or industries specific to certain places. So today, objects, know-how, and materials are often contained to specific places. Residencies like La Pause reactivate ancient ways of circulating objects, knowledge, and materials through art.

 

Has thinking about the reactivation of this circulation affected your own artistic practice?

MB: Growing up I went to a French school, but in the last few years I’ve been going through a process of “unlearning”: I am getting rid of everything the French school taught me, because it taught me a history of art in which my [Moroccan] society and culture didn’t exist. In this process, I’ve thought a lot about things that have always existed but are described as “artisan” or “indigenous” because of colonial history. Colonizers established a hierarchy that put Europe at the center of the world and with that came a distinction between scholarly, or European, art and indigenous, or Moroccan, art. This distinction still exists today and presents us with a specific hierarchy instead of multiple points of view.

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“The act of researching, archiving, and documenting what artisans are doing is a way of challenging the authority of the traditional archive.”

M'Barek Bouhchichi

Can you talk more about what this distinction looks like in Morocco today?

MB: Today, the artisan is marginalized, although they are the maker. Marrakech serves as a showcase of what artisans are doing but they don’t exist in the showcase. In the Moroccan education system, which is rooted in the Western tradition, we are only encouraged to use our brains. But craftmanship can bring back the idea of making things with one’s hands and brain—to use one’s hands to not only make but also to think. We need to recreate a balance between the two.

In my own practice, when I hear a type of craftsmanship is dying, I often go and look for those artisans. There’s a sense of urgency to go, see, collect, and archive their process. I find this very important because the traditional, Euro-centric archive writes about us, Moroccan people, without giving us the opportunity to write our own history. So, for me, the act of researching, archiving, and documenting what artisans are doing is a way of challenging the authority of the traditional archive.

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Akid Abderrahim creates all types of ceramic forms in his generations-old studio.

Marrakech has such rich artistic traditions, but it’s also been expanding in the last 10 years with the arrival of more commercial art galleries and an art fair, which reflect European models of the contemporary art world. In what ways have you seen this affect the city and its artistic dialogue or activity?

MB: There are important ways of thinking about art beyond artworks, art fairs, galleries, and so on, which impose market codes and values. Collaborations with artisans show you art outside of this sphere. The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, for instance, started in London, then went to the U.S., and then came to the African continent. It is important to question the fair, the role of the artists, and the role of the initiatives that happen around it.

I think art and the artistic activity in Morocco have a responsibility towards the history, towards the context, towards the people. Marrakech has a very interesting context which nests different realities. It’s in the middle of Morocco, it’s multiethnic, multicultural. Visually, there is a mountain with snow but there are also palm trees. There is the medina but also the new town, and traffic flows between the two. There is a side which point towards authenticity and history, and there is a side which points towards modernity and civilization. All of this creates a laboratory that attracts artists.

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Located on the African continent but also closely connected to Europe and the Middle East, Morocco and the streets of its cities reflect a wide range of cultural influences.

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Outside of Marrakech is an unforgettable landscape, with snowy mountains as well as an arid desert.

It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on language, since so many are spoken in Morocco and also because many visitors, including some of the artists in residence at La Pause, rely on nonverbal communication to interact with locals.

MB: In general, nonverbal language creates itself as a form of expression in the absence of spoken language, and this is what happens when an artist meets an artisan. There is an exchange where things are created without words. For instance, Deborah [Fischer, one of the artists at the La Pause Residency] and I found ourselves creating art together without even thinking about it. It’s very reassuring to meet someone and understand each other in this way.

 

In addition to language, landscape, and culture, Morocco is also very unique in terms of its world geography. It’s on the African continent, but also connected to Europe and the Middle East. How do you see the country’s positioning?

MB: There is a kind of schizophrenic situation in Morocco: Sometimes we’re not African, sometimes we’re Arabic, recently we became Berber. We’re in a geographical situation where we ask ourselves about the legitimacy of representing a continent that we don’t know. For example, when we, Moroccan people, see people of color we say they are Africans and we forget that we are African. The history of “Africanness” needs to go past the color of skin—Africa needs to be seen over and over again, and revisited as a larger entity beyond color, ethnicity, or race. Personally, it’s important for me to turn around and look toward the South. When I look in that direction, I see and accept the past. Then I question history and come back to the idea of breaking the cycle to begin again.

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Bouhchichi collaborated with Deborah Fischer, a French artist who was in residence at La Pause.

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