Yassine Balbzioui’s mural titled Fantasy.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
The exhibition titled Moroccan Trilogy 1950-2020 (Trilogía Marroquí 1950-2020) being hosted at Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofía (Mar. 31 – Sept. 27) is an initiative of Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Ministry of Culture and Sport of the Government of Spain and National Foundation of Museums of the Kingdom of Morocco, with the collaboration of Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art — Qatar Museums and Qatar Foundation. Curated by Manuel Borja-Villel and Abdellah Karroum and coordinated by Leticia Sastre, it articulates a visual dialogue, reflecting artistic production at three historical moments, dating from Morocco’s independence to the present day.
It does so through a selection of artworks that show the diversity of initiatives, the vitality of artistic debate and the interdisciplinary exchanges to be found in Morocco.
The exhibition falls within the area of decolonial research and is a first attempt to broaden the focus of these analyses by turning the gaze onto the southern shore of the Mediterranean, the cradle of western civilisation, and more specifically onto Morocco, an ancient country just fourteen kilometres away from Spain.
Moroccan Trilogy 1950-2020 offers an account of artistic experiences in Morocco from the mid-20th century onwards, focusing particularly on the three urban centers of Tétouan, Casablanca and Tangier.
The 250 works on show, produced between 1950 and 2020, combine with archive documents to illustrate a history of profuse cultural effervescence. They show the diversity of artistic expression in modern Morocco, highlighting the key figures of each period from the transition to independence (1950-1969) to the so-called ‘Years of Lead’ (1970-1999), and from then to the present day (2000-2020).
After forty years under French and Spanish protectorates, the first period covers an extremely agitated phase that extends from the years of independence till 1969. During that time, the art field was articulated around debates aroused by the appearance of the nationalist movement and the imperative need to construct a discourse on identity. These two aspects made up the conceptual background to modern Moroccan art in the 1960s and 1970s, when artists started to question traditional artistic academicism transmitted through art teaching in Morocco.
After studying and training in the world’s principal art capitals, the first generation of Moroccan artists became saturated with theoretical debates then in vogue internationally. They later adopted abstraction as a means of expression suited to their national hopes and anxieties over their identity. In this way, many artists who had started by studying at local art schools, broke radically with the academic knowledge they had acquired during their training in Morocco, and went to continue their studies in Europe and the United States.
After their return to Morocco, artists such as Mohamed Melehi, Mohamed Chabâa with Farid Belkahia, Mohamed Hamidi, Mohamed Ataallah and Mustapha Hafid, profoundly transformed Moroccan artistic education at the School of Fine Arts in Casablanca. This soon helped to open up the country’s art to modernity, with projects that combined craftsmanship with innovative artistic forms.
At the same time, the city of Tangier became a cosmopolitan centre and a meeting place for the beat generation. From Mohamed Choukri’s relationship with that environment came one of the starkest autobiographical narratives in Moroccan literature. During the same period, the magazine Souffles, edited by poet Abdellatif Laâbi, opened the debate on history and to new social realities. The publication, which was born in reaction to the armed repression of the student revolt of 1965, very soon became a sounding box for critical discourse and political action.In the second phase — years of great internal conflict — there emerged a constellation of alternative publications, festivals and biennials, often independent.
The voice of dissidence, especially active in literature, poetry and theatre, was spread through Souffles, until it was banned in 1972, and after that through Intégral and Lamalif. Also appearing in that period was a nonacademic and non-intellectualised art represented by self-taught men and women with links to a living artistic dynamism, as in the case of Chaïbia Talal and Fatima Hassan. In the late 1980s, a new contemporary trend began to establish itself on the Moroccan art scene. Adopting fresh artistic approaches, it crystallised in the 1990s with artists like Mohamed El Baz, Mounir Fatmi and Yto Barrada. In the last years of the 1990s, Morocco went through its transition to democracy, when signs of openness in the media started to appear. The last section of the exhibition, which covers the years 2000 to 2020, shows the work of a generation of young artists who broke away from the past on the formal, technical, symbolic and political planes of art.
This generation frequented alternative venues, where artists made contacts on the fringes of the conventional circuits. It also included a large number of women artists, whose works often aroused critical reflection on feminine identity in the specific context of Moroccan society. Each of these periods, with its tendencies, ideological issues and historical accidents, was significant for the next generations. All in all, Moroccan Trilogy 1950- 2020 is a study of the artistic heritage of Morocco since the post-independence period and an analysis of its contemporary production.
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