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Morocco : A Living, universal Culture

From the end of the nineteenth century until independence in 1956, western ideas influenced Moroccan culture and sometimes even gave birth to new forms of expression

Painting by LaglaouiMorocco is a pluralistic culture, inevitably split along the same lines that demarcate its multi-faceted society - popular and elitist, urban and rural. Such diversity is inherent in Moroccan culture, past and present : a social and historical diversity whose every element embodies pluralism,. It is the product of many civilizations: Berber, African, Arab, Islamic, Jewish and European. Only in Morocco, you can leave all these cultures, inside these cultures, in one culture, the Moroccan culture of today. A visit to this Magic Kingdom will prove this thesis, just come, visit, walk in Moroccan streets, mix with people, try to be one of them, smell the aroma of Morocco, and then you will discover that your real visit to Morocco is a journey that will never end, in your mind, whenever you are in the world.

Morocco's cultural wealth finds expression in a variety of creative disciplines: oral and written literature, poetry, music, architecture and visual arts, a heritage that imposes itself as a reference for Morocco's contemporary intellectuals and artists. From the end of the nineteenth century until independence in 1956, western ideas influenced Moroccan culture and sometimes even gave birth to new forms of expression (easel painting, the novel, the cinema, etc.). But towards the end of the sixties, Moroccan artists affirmed their desire to reclaim that which was their own.

They had a new and critical awareness of their cultural alienation and longed to take a fresh, pragmatic look at their cultural heritage. They wanted to find the subtle balance between two sets of forms and expressions, governed by two different visions - that of traditional Morocco and that of the modern west. This approach has enabled the country's intellectuals to construct a specific contemporary culture, the fruit of a delicate operation which consisted in striking a symbiosis between Morocco's own cultural heritage and the forms of expression of the future.

Morocco Painting, Sculpture and Photography

After three decades of searching and reflexion, Morocco's cultural landscape today reflects the richness of the creative responses to questions concerning a variety of areas: the plastic arts, cinema, theatre, music and literature. Chaibia painting, exhibited in Assilah

Morocco's painting and sculpture have evolved from contemporary artists' confrontation with their country's vast and vital artistic heritage. The traditional arts are strongly present in every aspect of Moroccan life, from architecture to everyday objects. Artists, faced with these symbolic forms that are so closely bound up with collective imagery, responded by re-evaluating this heritage and incorporating an unmistakably contemporary aesthetic ideal. Cherkaoui, through his study of Arabic calligraphy and the Berber symbols used to decorate both traditional objects and the human body, has succeeded in containing both sign and meaning within a single, intense vibration.

Painters Melehi, Belkahia and Chebaa, who taught painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Casablanca (1968-1971), are among the most active members of Morocco's artistic community, and play an important role in the on-going task of building a national culture. They were the organizers, in 1969, of the "exposition-Manifeste" in Marrakech's Djamaa El Fna Square.

Today, the development of pictorial expression is moving towards the diversification of expression based on individual perceptions and the exploration of artistic possibilities. Belkahia's use of local materials is a good example of this. He paints on leather instead of canvas, using natural pigments which accentuate the sensuality of his shapes and graphic figures. The studied, deliberate brushstrokes of Sufist-inspired painter Rabi seem rooted in the spirit of calligraphy.

Other young artists have achieved international recognition. One of the best known is Kacimi, whose signs and figures painted on huge canvases look as though they are about to take flight.

Bellamine, another young artist, creates density and mystery with layer on layer of color, infused with a joyful transparence that reflects his love of painting.

Photographer Ennadre has traveled the world to photograph the human body in all its states, from birth to death. The powerful suggestiveness of his work is a solemn tribute to the human condition. No discussion of Moroccan painting would be complete without a mention of self-taught artists like Chaibia. Her colorful, sweeping, fabulous and very personal canvasses contain something of the Moroccan countryside where she grew up.

Poster of Maktoub movieMoroccan Cinema

Although Moroccan cinema does not cater to a very large commercial market in the past, there is no denying that it is alive and well and start attracting millions of viewers every year. On average, Morocco produces a little more than ten feature length films a year. In terms of creativity, Moroccan cinema is the most advanced in North Africa. Unlike the films produced by many Arab countries, and known for its mass-appeal melodramas, most of the films that come out of Morocco are original, culturally-oriented movies. Just get acquainted with the philosophy and of course films and subjects treated by such directors as Souheil Benbarka and Imane Mesbahi we wrote about in this issue, and you will discover what we are talking about here.

In 1970, H. Bennani's film "Wechma" marked a turning point for Moroccan cinema, and has a great impact on other directors. "Chergui", by M. Smihi followed in 1975. The film, a fragmented chronicle of childhood set in Tangier, was hailed as a revelation by critics. M. Smihi's latest film "Caftan d'Amour", was adapted from the novel The Big Mirror by Paul Bowles and M. M'Rabet.

"Hadda", by M. Aboulouakar, is a film of amazing visual beauty. "Une porte ouverte sur le Ciel", by Farida Belyazid, sensitively examines the inner conflicts of a girl who has lived abroad for many years. Other well-known Moroccan directors include Bouanani, Derkaoui, Maanouni, Tazi, Benbarka, Mesbahi.

Theatre

Although Morocco starts to develop a very extensive professional theater infrastructure, it has a very active amateur theater, with troupes all over the country. In the seventies, T. Saddiki, combined the best aspects of local performing arts and western theatrical tradition, putting Morocco at the forefront of Arabic theatre. His productions embodied the techniques of story telling and traditional entertainment, and were much loved by audiences for their visual beauty and the messages conveyed.

Music

Moroccan popular music was reborn in the 70s, with the arrival of the group Nass El Ghiwane. The group's material and style were inspired by popular forms (malhoun, aita and guenaoua, for example.. Their subtle lyrics can nonetheless be highly critical f some aspects of Moroccan society. A whole generation of Moroccan youth came of age to the beat of Nass El Ghiwane's stirring percussions. Other groups followed, among them Jil Jilala and Izan Zaren, whose popularity extends beyond Morocco's borders. Rai, a phenomenon which began in Algeria, is currently all the rage among Morocco's young people, who identify strongly with its themes and melodies.

Moroccan Singer Samira SaidAlso worthy of recognition is the work of contemporary composer A. Essyad, whose music is a blend of oral tradition and written composition, and of Arab-Berber and European styles. One of his most famous lyrical compositions, "L'Eau", based on T. Ben Jelloun's libretto, was commissioned by Radio-France.

Observers of Morocco's constantly evolving cultural landscape never fail to be impressed by the originality and creativity of the work of the country's artists - and this is what distinguishes Morocco most strongly from other Arab countries. Private and public initiatives abound and there is no lack of imagination or inspiration.

 

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