At the end of January I had the chance to lead a group of 2nd year students from across the disciplines at Cardiff School of Art and Design to Morocco. The aim of the trip was cultural exchange and taking inspiration from the vibrant crafts, hosting and storytelling traditions of Marrakesh and the local Berber culture. Students have been able to respond by making artists books, sketchbooks, 3D artefacts and documentaries. A visit to the University’s artists books collection provided inspiration before the trip.
One of the highlights was meeting Bert Flint, octogenarian founder of the Tiskiwin Museum, a unique collection of Berber artefacts from around the Sahara, which considers Morocco from African rather than Near Eastern perspectives. Some of the objects date back to Neolithic, pre-desert times, and it was fascinating to hear that Ancient Egyptian art, often considered entirely original, may have emerged from Saharan traditions.
At Café Clock we were welcomed by Mounia and team to live music, a storytelling evening and a calligraphy workshop. Here I try to write ‘Chris’, alongside some calligraphic beans from the roof garden of the Musée Boucharouite which houses Berber rag rugs and an eclectic display of royalist print ephemera.
Storyteller and couple from Hamburg at Café Clock
Away from the Medina’s earthier displays of Berber culture at Tiskiwin and Boucharouite, the Jardin Majorelle provides Matissian ‘luxe, calme et volupté’ for its permanent collection of Berber costumes and jewellery. Lit rather like Scaramanga’s shooting parlour in ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ it contains abundant riches in a little room but vitrines place the items on a luxury goods pedestal. Outside, the wealthy and selfie jostle for admiration among the cacti.
In the new Yves Saint Laurent museum next door, visitors are ushered by solemn uniformed staff and prohibited from taking photographs in the inner temple to the great designer. I managed a few sketches. Brightly lit, famous confections are bathed in hushed interviews, songs from the sixties and projected words: ‘japon’- ‘théâtre’ -‘Proust’- ‘Cocteau’. “I want to give the woman a certain confidence”, whispers Yves. “Everyone can do fashion. Few can make what I call a true garment: one that is ageless.” Stealing from the Berbers to give confidence to the rich. The only way I can cope with the idea of fashion is to concur with Georges Perec that everything is fashionable. (Although clothing – that’s interesting).
Meanwhile in the Mellah, the former Jewish quarter in the Medina, the daily queues form for pain Berbère, flat bread made in the open, served with stew or fresh olive oil and mint tea, piping hot and sugared to leave your teeth curling in their cavities.
Drawing in public can open doors; you’re more the spectacle and it’s less threatening than a camera. Most people in the Mellah are too pre-occupied with daily life to bother about being sketched, but a young guy asks if I can draw him, and promptly poses having his breakfast in the usual way. Turns out he’s an architectural engineer and he shows me his housing development designs. Sketching exactly the same spot a year ago I met a professor of IT from Casablanca having coffee with his wife. That led to an instant invitation to Sunday lunch at their self-build mansion outside town.
Apart from film footage and audio recordings, one of the main things I collected in Morocco was structures which might be useful in creative projects:
architectural, horticultural, natural. In the ornate courtyard of the Tiskiwin Museum I drew this climbing plant: biding its time in low season, supported by a rough bamboo structure. I thought this could be an analogy for good HE teaching: a light structure, firm and open, improvised in places, but relaxed about flourishing next year.
One of our tour guides, Mr. Amin described the phenonemon of the Riad, the traditional Moroccan house with a courtyard in the middle. “Unlike in Spain, the windows look in rather than out. Once inside you are in your own private kingdom.” A sketchbook can provide a similar space.