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Working at the interface between Africa and Europe: the artists of Tangier and neighboring Asilah
The port city of Tangier is Africa's most north-westerly city and sits on the Straits of Gibraltar, right across the Mediterranean Sea from the former Moorish empire in Spain. During much of the first half of the 20th century, Tangier was part of an international zone under the joint administration of European powers and the US. This special status attracted a diverse expat population of creatives, including Henri Matisse, Paul Bowles, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Interaction between foreign and Moroccan artists and writers has typified the Tangier art scene ever since. Nearby Asilah is a sleepy fishing town known for its murals, a tradition which developed originally as part of a local festival and which has become anchored in the town.
Artist: Mohamed Hamri (1932 - 2000)
Genre: painting, writing
Biography: More typically known by his surname alone, Hamri, was a key participant in the Tangier Beat scene, having met Paul Bowles at the age of 18. Art is clearly in the family genes - Mohammed's father was a ceramicist, his mother part of a long line of Joujouka musicians and his daughter has became first Moroccan woman to direct a Hollywood movie. He was instrumental in bringing the Joujouka traditions and music to a broader, urban and international audience, not least through his friendship with Rolling Stone Brian Jones. His relationship with celebrities of the 60s and their work with the Joujouka musicians are much better than Hamri's art, which occasionally has an abstract Picasso-like quality about it and almost exclusively draws on the Sufi and musical traditions of the Joujouka.
Artist: Mounir Fatmi (1970-)
Genre: multimedia, including video, installation, drawing, painting, photography and sculpture
Biography: Working and living between Tangier and Paris, Fatmi has had considerable international exposure, not least because his work captures a post 9/11 zeitgeist. Much of Fatmi’s work deals with the history, religion and the desecration of religious icons and the relationship between death or obsolescence and the subject of consumption. His work is provocative, challenging the politics and religious ideologies of the Arab-Muslim world, making him a controversial artist within that region but a popular one abroad. As a reaction to the Arab Spring, he exhibited The Lost Spring, an installation composed of 2 brooms of 3 meters and the 22 flags of the Arab League.
Artist: Mohamed Melehi (1936-)
Genre: painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, cinema
Biography: Born in Asilah, Melehi studied in Tétouan and then left Morocco for Spain, Italy and New York. He has been a major figure in Moroccan contemporary art - as an artist, a professor, a publisher of the art revue, Souffles, and also as a key figure in government supporting the promotion of the arts and culture. He is the co-founder and Vice President of Al Mohit, a non-profit which promotes the cultural festival in his home town of Asilah. Melehi's art is typically abstract, composed of clean lines, bright color and clear shapes. He draws his influence from the intersection of modernity in Moroccan and Occidental art and the bright colors and symbols of African and Berber tradition. He has exhibited in France, but mainly in Morocco, notably his exhibition "From Tangier to Tangier".
Artist: Zakaria Ramhani (1983-)
Genre: painting
Biography: Ramhani learned much of his craft in his father's studio. His formal studies brought him a diploma in plastic arts, but thereafter he gave up formal education to devote himself to his art. Since 2006, he has been working on a project called “De droite à gauche” (literally, From Right to Left), which highlights the relationship between the art of portrait and calligraphy. Ramhani has developed a style where calligraphy represents images, principally portraits. He has exhibited his work across Morocco, France and the Middle East and is present in prestigious institutional collections. In 2010, Artprice named him as one of the top ten grossing artists under thirty at auction. Today, Ramhani lives and works in Montreal, Canada.
Artist: Mohamed Anzaoui (1964-)
Genre: painting
Biography: Anzaoui first discovered painting in the workshops organized for children in the cultural festival of his native Asilah. Following a stint in Paris, he exhibited across Europe, notably in Spain and the Netherlands. He returned to Asilah to exhibit in the early 1990s and to create a workshop and exhibition space with fellow artists, Mouad Yebari and Souhail Benazzouz. Anzaoui's lack of formal fine arts education seems to afford him an imaginary freedom. His paintings have an ethereal, dreamlike quality and apparently inhabit a space between sky, ocean and earth.
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