Walking past a shimmering Abdelghani Bouzian sculpture into an exhibition of pieces you’ve selected to convey stories you, yourself, are in the midst of learning feels unlike any other experience. As a lifestyle publication, we oftentimes get to understand cultures and communities through the art made by established and emerging locals. With this in mind, we knew that on our COOL HUNTING Morocco adventure, one of the best ways we could convey the current spirit and mood there—and in ever-changing Tanger specifically—to our guests would be to present an art exhibition. This was possible thanks to the artists, experts and friends we met there and with the support of Director Mohammad Ettakal and his team at the Direction Regionale de la Culture Tanger-Tetouane, who graciously let us host our exhibition in the Mohamed Drissi Gallery, a beautiful 19th century building that was formerly the British Ambassador’s residence and has served as the regional arts office and a public art space since the 1990s.
We worked with Tanger-based curator Hamza El Messari, Atelier Kissaria, photographer Mounchili Youssef (aka Polo Free) and the students who are learning photography at the DARNA Association, alongside our Fes-based collaborator Nina Mohammad-Galbert. Each partner contributed to creating this gallery, which was open to the public for a week and featured work of artists living and working in Tanger.
Atelier Kissaria is a destination dedicated to art production; a fully functional workshop where one can find everything from a darkroom to a silkscreen facility on site. Interspersed throughout, there are artists of all ages producing. For our exhibition, they united eight artists—including Sido Lansari, who also is the director of Cinémathèque de Tanger, Khalid El Bastrioui, Hicham Gardaf, Laila Hida, Rita Alaoui, Nazim Azarzar, Anuar Khalifi, and ZIneb Benjelloun. Evocative, engaging and truly powerful, the work ranged from repurposed advertising to contemporary embroidery. Identity was a frequent through line. And a clear glimpse of Tanger today—as a cultural capital and city reemerging—grew before our eyes.
Hamza El Messari peppered the walls of the exhibition with everything from delicate watercolors to chaotic skull-shaped art pieces and video art, with work from Omar Saadoune, Mohamed Said Chaer, Mohamed Khaled Mrabet, Gabriele Venckuté, Damien Bonnaud, Sonia Merazga, Kamal Essoussi and Mohamed Deboudi. Three of the eight were born out of Morocco but reside and create in Tanger. From self-taught to National Institute alumni, the backgrounds were as diverse as the work itself. Many of those El Messari selected have stepped beyond the title of emerging. Their sculptures, paintings, videos and more conveyed both the fertile artistic grounds of the area—and the topics artists are most interested in, a combination of life, death and the natural.
Equal parts celebration of photography and on-site photo-booth, photographer Polo Free anchored a portrait studio during our exhibition. Here, he snapped photos of our guests while introducing the work around him. All of the pieces hung on the walls came from DARNA students, aged between 16 and 20 years old. Prior to the exhibition, we experienced the art classes at DARNA, and the impact on those taking them. Six individuals from the school had large-scale work on display, and many students were present—snapping photos of those in attendance of their gallery debut.
This pop-up wasn’t purely for the sake of artist exposure, nor to paint a picture of the scene. Guests and locals were able to purchase the work on the walls, and they did, taking home a part of the experience while supporting, and investing in, an artist they were previously not familiar with. Art speaks volumes. Thanks to our friends and the artists, we bound these pages together, and walked through their messages.
Images courtesy of Leslie Parker