Morocco: Rabat, New Capital for Art and Culture by Sihame Bouhout

Morocco: Rabat, New Capital for Art and Culture by Sihame Bouhout Morocco always has been a destination of inspiration for artists: Matisse, Majorelle, Delacroix, many of the beat generation…But what about Moroccan artists?

When a country has been through the complicated processes of colonization; or its closest version which resulted in its status called a “protectorate” for Morocco. It is not possible to draw comparisons between its development and that of Western countries. Too much history has slowed down its maturation. Opinions are divided as to whether the cultures and histories of either Europe or Africa can claim positive or negative outcomes. There is no clear answer; the question will remain. But it left scars of corruption and political instability that are undeniable.

In this context it is always great news to witness a country’s development, not only from an economic point of view but also rather from a cultural point of view. Most of these countries in Africa actually possess great wealth in the form of natural resources, even if their own citizens are never the beneficiaries of this wealth.

What is interesting is to witness developments in a country’s forms of cultural expression, which are always good and hopeful signs. The first decisions made by dictators once they establish their power are: to suppress philosophical classes and to restrain the power of culture. The only art that will be elevated will be art dedicated to the leader’s image.

The Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat is the first major museum built by Morocco since independence, after ten years of work and 17 million Euros of investment. It is the first museum dedicated to modern and contemporary art in the country.

This museum is the first step of a larger plan to make Rabat a cultural center. Located in the center of the capital, the design of the building is classically Moorish. The opening coincided with the announcement of the debut work "Grand Theatre,” designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid.

The first formal exhibition of the Museum, entitled "1914-2014: One Hundred Years of Creation," brought together some 400 works by 150 Moroccan artists who have achieved some fame outside of but not within their own country. It is, in the words of the artist-filmmaker Abdelghani BIBT, "a unique opportunity to promote national artists (...), sometimes better known abroad than in Morocco."

These works include those of the painter Farid Belkahia, who died last month, but also Chabaa Mohamed, Mohamed Kacimi, Chaïbia Tallal, and Hassan El Glaoui exhibited for the first time in the same museum. The Moroccan school of abstraction and figuration are both represented.

The museum will be an exhibition space but not only that; it will also be a place for the production of works of art and training. Drawing upon already-established partnerships with institutions such as the Louvre and the Museum of Civilization in Europe and the Mediterranean in Marseille, the museum aims to provide an opportunity for artists to learn new skills and to encourage the development of joint exhibitions.

For now, no precise operating budget has been announced, and the manner of entry for the public has yet to be defined. But it is very much hoped that Moroccans will have a free access to it.

In addition, the museum is in negotiations to exhibit works on loan from private collectors and patrons, including works by a collector who has a collection of 200 paintings that include paintings by Picasso and Braque.

It is very interesting to see through the exhibition, how Moroccan painters and photographers have detached from the expected connections to folklore and traditions to develop their own individuality.

Sihame Bouhout.