Spotlight

State of the Art: Marrakech, Morocco

Spotlight

State of the Art: Marrakech, Morocco

Spotlight

State of the Art: Marrakech, Morocco

Contemporary African Art Fair, Marrakech

22 – 23 February 2020

The centuries-old trading hub of Marrakech is world-famous for its ancient artistry and abundance of UNESCO World Heritage sites, but Morocco's iconic city is quickly becoming the leading international destination for contemporary African art and culture too.

Scottish Ballet's Evan Loudon and Bethany Kingsley - Garner and Alzheimer Scotland's Every Voice Choir © Sally Jubb

“The arts scene in Marrakech and throughout Morocco is blossoming. This is a city which values its traditional culture and heritage – the present is always in dialogue with the past”

El Glaoui

Radiating under a year-round warm sun, there are few places as intoxicating and vibrant as Marrakech. Renowned for its heady mix of maze-like markets, exotic souks and arresting architecture, the Moroccan city's status as a cultural hub was newly solidified at the triennial Africities Summit when it was named the first-ever African Capital of Culture for 2020.


From exploring the famous Djemaa El Fna Square to getting lost in the ancient medina, or indulging in traditional hammams, Marrakech has summoned travellers over the years into a world brimming with sensory bedazzlement at every turn. Today, the city’s mesmerising heritage is entwined with a contemporary arts scene, grand opulent hotels and an enchanting personality that has, with this new title, captured the attention of art lovers across the globe.


Rising through the city’s cacophony of creativity, 1-54 Marrakech showcases and celebrates artworks made within the African diaspora. Having held annual editions of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London 2013 and New York since 2015, the exhibition’s founder Touria El Glaoui, who is Moroccan herself, returns the fair to Marrakech for the third time this February. Although embraced by the whole city, the prestigious 12th-century La Mamounia hotel will once again provide a stunning base for the fair in the heart of Marrakech.


“The arts scene in Marrakech and throughout Morocco is blossoming,” says El Glaoui. “This is a city which values its traditional culture and heritage – the present is always in dialogue with the past.” It is this timelessness that makes Marrakech so unique. Through tradition, storytelling and forgotten arts, new talent has emerged with drama, brilliance and impact that is unparalleled anywhere else on the continent.

Constance Devernay, Scottish Ballet © Rimbaud Patron

Scottish Ballet dancer Melissa Parsons with pupils from Cuthbertson Primary School, Govanhill © Jeff Holmes.

Academy Dance Studio pupils perform with Scottish Ballet © Sally Jubb

“There are many renowned Moroccan artists, particularly painters, but through the contemporary turn we have seen a surge of new media and multidisciplinary artists using performance, photography and film,” says El Glaoui. “We see this in the work of artists such as Hassan Hajjaj and Mounir Fatmi, and emerging voices such as Yoriyas Alaoui Ismaili and Walid Layadi-Marfouk. Artists are influenced by the diverse culture of traditional ceremonies, folk music, artisanal practices and architecture, while simultaneously addressing urgent socio-political and personal concerns.”


In addition to the 1-54 fair, an artistic itinerary of Marrakech must also include the city’s museums. For years, Marrakech has served as a source of inspiration for artists and designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, who famously bought the Jardin Majorelle with his partner when it faced demolition in the 1980s. The legacy of Saint Laurent’s love story with Morocco now lives on at the Musée Yves Saint Laurent. The museum, which is dedicated to his work, stores 1,000 couture garments and accessories on loan from the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, plus 3,000 non-exhibited pieces from the Berber Museum at the Jardin Majorelle. The institution has grand ambitions to become a leading player in conserving extraordinary collections under optimal conditions.


Elsewhere in the city, the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), which opened in 2018, aims to disseminate, educate and popularise art in Morocco and across the continent. “We want to change perceptions and break away from the dusty, elitist museum, especially among the younger generation,” says MACAAL’s artistic director, Meriem Berrada. “To do this, we have created a programme of meetings with artists, creative workshops, film screenings, concerts and other events. We also regularly collaborate with young artists to help them develop and realise their projects.”

Bethany Kingsley-Garner, Scottish Ballet © Rimbaud Patron

“Morocco, and Marrakech, in particular, is a crossroads of civilisations, hence the strong, creative energy of incredible richness and diversity that emerges”

Meriem Berrada

For Berrada, it’s easy to see why Marrakech has been crowned as the first-ever African Capital of Culture for 2020, and she is excited by what the recent developments mean for the city's future as a global art destination. “Morocco, and Marrakech, in particular, is a crossroads of civilisations, hence the strong, creative energy of incredible richness and diversity that emerges,” says Berrada. “With this new status, we hope to see more constructive, dynamic exchanges through working together to develop and sustain future projects and initiatives.”


It is, after all, this ancient city's embrace of modernity that makes it so enticing for global visitors. While travellers continue to seek hidden treasures with the city's caravanserai of walls, 2020 will no doubt draw a new crowd of art lovers to Marrakech thanks to the fairs and institutions proudly sharing its contemporary offering on the world stage.

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