Can Art not be political? Reem Fadda unveils details on the upcoming 6th Marrakech Biennale

by Mara Sartore
February 12, 2016
Mara Sartore
Fadda Reem

I’ve met Reem Fadda in Marrakesh last December in a sunny day just out the medina, we had lunch together to talk about the program of the upcoming Marrakech Biennale.

Mara Sartore: Could you tell us about your vision on the upcoming Marrakesh Biennale?

Reem Fadda: I was appointed to be the curator of the Marrakech Biennale 2016, however I also decided to invite three Moroccan curators to intervene and do their own thing.

Omar Berrada a writer, translator and critic who works with Dar al Mamun is doing one particular intervention, within the main exhibition, on the oeuvre of the filmmaker and writer Ahmed Bouanani who passed away a couple of years ago. Bouanani was very well known for his interrogation of tradition and how tradition can be still used within our daily and contemporary life.

Omar is working on the fascinating idea of getting other artists to look at Bouanani’s practice and produce work based on this observation. He’s also presenting Bouanani’s library and archive in a large interactive and living space.

At the same time I have also called on Salma Lahlou and Fatima-Zahra Lakrissa, two other Moroccan curators, who are collaborating alongside with me to curate a section on the Casablanca School, a movement, which happened in the early 60s, affiliated to the Ecoles des Beaux Art in Casablanca. There were several key artists as part of this art movement but we’re focusing only on three of its pioneers: (Ahmed Buoanani is also regarded as a critic that was affiliated to the school), Farid Belkahia, a very senior and well known artist who was mainly based in Marrakech and only passed away a year and a half ago, Mohamed Chebaa and Mohamed Melehi.

These three really thought about what would the art they produced look like, in form and ideas during the late 50s and early 60s, when the country was gaining independence. How could the art resist being co-opted for nationalistic purposes? How could they stay in the margins advancing ideas? People like Farid Belkahia for example looked at graphic signage, at multiple symbols: African, Amazigh, Arab, Jewish… and created work that was about nature, society, tradition and multiplicity. Living in Morocco now for the Biennale I have developed my personal thesis regarding the Casablanca school. There is diversity here and, there is a sense of belonging to Africa as much as in other places and there’s tolerance because they were people that created a cultural knowledge about all of these factors. For me this is the essence of the Casablanca school and I wanted to see how that affects all contemporary artists in Morocco and elsewhere.

MS: Could you tell us about “Not New Now” the title you have chosen for the Biennale?

RF: I started with the Biennale title, which is Not New Now, it’s just a provocation: I want to criticize the idea of the new and also the idea of the old. I think of the legacy of time as a continuum, it is not progress, it’s continuity. I want to focus on Now, that’s the most important thing: looking at today is the most important thing we can do in relation to time.

We are not looking at the future, nor getting stuck on the past. It’s about finding the current solution for our present time. It’s about reflecting on the ideas of urgency in relation to the turbulences that we are experiencing everywhere from the Arab world to Asia, Africa and also Europe. It’s the sense of really asking the urgent questions for artists and for art society, but at the same time the most important thing for me is when I start to ask the question about art and politics, “Can art be political?”

In my vocabulary, from where I come from, I’ve never seen art that is not political. I come from a vernacular of art that was never not political, does that mean it’s not art?

I have been studying the region, looking at the African continent, Asia and South America, all of them seem to share the same language.

Another key question is what is art and what can be defined as contemporary art? Contemporary art today is political, so where does this legacy come from? Obviously not from Donald Judd and Frank Stella. This legacy comes from somewhere else. The question that needs to be asked is what the rest of the world is presenting as art and what is its vocabulary. I have subsequently chosen to substitute the term of contemporary art with ‘living art.’ It’s art that is for people and for the society, it’s political yet at the same time it’s also a painting!

Again if we return to the Casablanca School, its members were thinking politically about decolonization, and they developed an artistic and aesthetic production through painting that in the collective understanding became synonymous of tolerance and diversity. There paintings became emblems of thinking about othernesss. It was an art that was escaping essentialism: it was not just Moroccan or Arab, it was inclusive of all. Farid Belkahia’s forms are biomorphic, curved, sexual, and ultimately human; they are not angular paintings. It is interesting for me to think that he was already hinting towards the person.

MS: How many other artists are you bringing to the Biennale?

RF: I’m bringing nearly 50 artists who are presenting both newly commissioned and historical works. The majority of them comes from Africa, the Arab world, and Asia.

MS: Can you tell us about the locations?

RF: The Biennale will spread across five major historical locations: Palais Badii, Palais Bahia, Dar Si Said, Menara Pavilion, and the Koutoubia Mosque.

 MS: How large is the Biennale? So a foreign visitor who’s coming to Marrakech for the Biennale, how many days do you think it will take to see the show?

RF: What is wonderful about this edition is that we created an art platform for everyone. The Biennale has a main curated exhibition, but we will also have Partner Projects presented at affiliated institutions around the city, as well as a series of Parallel Projects selected through an open call.

MS: Can you tell us a bit about the art scene in Marrakech?

RF: In all of Morocco there’s a very vigorous, quite established and historic art scene; case on point is the Casablanca school in the 50s and even earlier on. There are of course also many established international artists here. The creative field is very dynamic thanks to various museums across the country, especially in Rabat and Casablanca. Marrakech is still developing in terms of artistic institutions, but there is a well established art school and one of the liveliest scenes in the country in terms of artistic production. If we look at the Mediterranean region, this city is somehow unmatched for the number of people working in the creative industry.

MS: Are there many artists living here?

RF: There are quite a few, although artists usually never live in just one place. You should visit Mohamed Mourabiti’s studio, which is close to the Atlas Mountains, and also Mahi Binebine’s. Both are established artists and together they created a residency space for other artists, Maqam El Fenn. Mourabiti is also participating in our Biennale.

It is important for me to have this edition of the Biennale focus on Africa and Marrakech, so there will be numerous Moroccan artists, as I think it should be. There will be many international artists too. The curatorial project will also play with the borders of what is considered Europe, because many Arab and African artists also work and live in Europe. Africa itself is being redefined through its diaspora, since the Biennale will present also the work of African American artists.

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