Arab Art as an Early Indicator of Revolution

The New York Times published an article on October 5, 2011, about how looking back on Moroccan art and other Arabic art from the last decade can show the unrest that the people have been feeling. The works of art leading up to the Arab Spring revolution are truly moving and full of meaning. These works of art from the 2000s are great predictors of what was to come in 2011. The article goes on to discuss the depictions of true emotions in these works of art and how they indicate the future of revolution.

The article focuses on the Marrakech Art Fair, held in September and October of last year in Morocco. At this fair, the work of Moroccan photographer, Hicham Benohoud, was featured prominently. Here is the photograph that the article is centered around:

photograph of a child, physically tied to and trapped in his environment

Benohoud’s photography, along with the other works of art at the fair, capture the  yearning and longing that Moroccans have been developing over the past decade. Benohoud features children tied to their surroundings in his works; he is representing the entrapment that Moroccans experience in their society.

another photograph by Hicham Benohoud, featured at the Marrakech Art Fair

Here is another photograph from the show, featuring a Moroccan man and woman filled with yearning. The Marrakech Art Fair was a great predictor and indicator of the revolution that followed.

The works on show position Arab artists, whose desire for freedom was strongly reflected in their works, as visionaries of the changes these countries were to undergo.


Rapper’s Imprisonment Tests Moroccan Reforms – NPR

I found this NPR sound bite which compliments Christie’s post from 2/18/2012. The video further suggests that the rapper’s arrest was set up by the government to silence the young musician ‘s outcries against the government. Many of the rapper’s fans are outraged by the arrest and speaking out. I think the Moroccan government made a mistake in arresting  El-Haqed, or “the defiant one.”

Karim Tazi, a businessman and political activist, believes in a government conspiracy against El-Haqed. He stated,  “This case is a high-profile case. It’s a symbolic case. He’s only an artist — and they want to silence him.”

El-Haqed’s trial will test the new government’s revamped justice system. Human-rights groups have urged the new ministers of justice to carefully investigate all charges against the rap star. The Moroccan justice system needs to be extremely careful with how they handle the rapper’s trial because the freedom of El-Haqed is extremely important to the young people who have been leading the protests throughout Morocco. Wrongful imprisonment will only incite more riots and protests in the country.Tazi further illustrates this point with his suggestion that,

“If they free him, he is going to come back and sing again. If they keep him in jail, they are adding fuel to the anger of the movement and bringing the movement back to life, so they are losing anyway.”

Moroccan Architecture and Art

Moroccan Architecture

This is an example of the typical Moroccan courtyard.The architectural styles of Morocco are revered for their extraordinary beauty, and reflect a diverse, cosmopolitan cultural fusion. The indigenous people of Morocco are the Berbers, who have lived in the land since at least 200 B.C. Yet, Morocco has also been occupied and ruled by other countries, including the Portuguese, the Arabians, the Spanish, and the French.  As a result, Morocco’s art and architecture have been influenced by the artistic trends of various cultures. Here is another Moroccan Courtyard

In many Moroccan cities, including Fez and Tangier, there is a quarter called the medina, or the old city.  This area of the city is characterized by its Moorish and Arab-style architecture.  Right next to the medina is the ville nouvelle, or French colonial city; the French colonizers built this section as part of an effort to develop the Moroccan cityscape in the early twentieth century. Here is a riad in Morocco. The two sections contrast each other in both city planning and architectural style.  In the medina, one might see narrow passages and streets that seem unplanned. These narrow streets extend in almost every direction. Interestingly enough, the medina strongly reflects Islamic architecture.

Since 685 C.E., Morocco has been an Islamic state, and thus has been transformed at the architectural and artistic level.  The Islamic architectural influence is apparent in the wide use of horseshoe arches, decorative mosques, and tall minarets. A key concept of Islamic architecture is the enclosed space for living and dining; derived from desert life, the idea was that one would be protected from a potentially hostile climate.  As a result, one will find the fountains, gardens, and decorative elements within the confines of the building, rather than surrounding the building (as one might observe with European architecture).  In Islamic architecture, the building is considered a part of the environment. As a result, private gardens and homes in the medina, called riads, usually have enclosed courtyards with gardens and pools. Because the medinas have their roots as virtual city-states that were built throughout Moroccan history, towers and crenellated walls typically surround them. These architectural elements protected against invasion, and are still present within the Medinas today.  The ville nouvelle has a very different architectural style to it; wide boulevards and grid-like streets characterize this part of the Moroccan city.

Moroccan Visual Arts

Moroccan wall decoration
Moroccan visual arts reflect a deep commitment to complex geometry, floral patterns, and calligraphic designs of simple, pastel colors. Because Islam prohibits the representation of people and animals in art, the use of abstract patterns and calligraphy are popular, and help focus the viewers mind.  At any medersa (Islamic universities), one will find calligraphic patterns carved in wood and stone, most of them taken from the Koran.  The backgrounds of these carvings are of incredible geometric complexity.  Walking through the Medina, one might also find complex tiles, called zellij mosaics, covering public spaces and furniture.  The riads, gardens and palaces, and medersas (Islamic universities) have inspired many artists, including western artist Delacroix and Henri Matisse. Moroccan artists today, such as Ahmed Cherkaoui and Hassan Slaoui, have seen a flourishing international status.

Ahmed Cherkaoui's Work

Hassan Slaoui's Work