By Nii B. Andrews.

Mohamed Melehi has been a prime mover of the post- independence cultural scene in Morocco; his work promoted a modernism rooted in Moroccan tradition and he insisted on fostering it for mass appeal.

Public murals, architecture, teaching, publishing and graphic design were all touched by his pioneering influence. Melehi in the greater part of his work explored the wave: it became his trademark.

It is therefore no surprise that the MACAAL last Friday formally opened a thematic retrospective exhibition dedicated to Melehi with the title, “New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School”.

The exhibition curators Morad Montazami and Madeleine de Colnet for Zamân Books & Curating have relied on a chronological approach that includes the judicious use of archival materials on the artist and the juxtaposition of traditional classic Amazigh pieces of superlative quality from the legendary collection of Bert Flint.

In three principal rooms or chapters, Melehi’s art is explored and forcefully articulated. 

His urban wanderings between Rome, New York and Casablanca; the impetus for a new visual vocabulary; the dream of sharing them with a universal community that transcends school and design studio – an anti elitist vision – that will culminate in the open air museum or migratory forms such as in the Asilah Arts Festival  which he co-founded in 1978.

In conversation with Mohamed Melehi. MACAAL Sept 2019.

While Melehi sampled jazz music played live by Mingus and Monk in NYC from 1957 to 1962, his hard line geometric abstraction still had the wave at the edge of his canvases…turned away from the straight edges.

On his return to Casa up to the late 70s, the wave was taking over the canvas in pulsating patterns referencing the cosmos, cities, perhaps even subconscious landscapes – even earth, water, wind and fire. 

Such was its ubiquity in Melehi’s work including posters and books; he literally owned it.

A further stimulus was provided by the collector and anthropologist, Bert Flint. 

The challenge was to align the popular arts, crafts to architecture and the vibrant modernist language of the Casablanca Art School.

This led Melehi and his compatriots (Belkahia, Chabaa, Maraini and others) to search for, revisit and understand the African and Amazigh sources of Moroccan popular arts…..rugs, tattoos,  jewelry,  leather work, “decorative” paintings of buildings.

Sharing a joke with Bert Flint. MACAAL Sept 2019.

The result was an exquisite exposition of forms and symbols that provide an interconnection between Amazigh, African, Islamic, Mediterranean and even Mesopotamian and Phoenician cultures.

Multiculturalism is not new; it is what is and has always been; it is always simply a scratch beneath the surface for those alert enough to inquire into the order and meanings of things.

The result of the collaborative efforts of the Casablanca Art School was a reversal of the modernist clichéd paradigm via the light (facts, evidence and reason) cast by a creative community underpinned by their persuasive collective intellectual power. 

The traditional “Master Artisan” thus provided perspectives for the future from within Moroccan arts and tradition. 

Liv, Damali and Othman Lazraq – President of the MACAAL, Sept 2019.

The result was an emancipatory pedagogy for students and a creative liberating ethos for practitoners; the age of the authentic “artists” had commenced.

This extraordinary exhibition – thought provoking, insightful and visually striking – in the architecturally stunning MACAAL, once again cements Marrakech as a place for the future of culture, innovation and ideas; a vibrant truly African city – Africa as it was and ought to be; proud, open, disciplined, resilient, fun and world class.

Liv, Damali and Janine Gaëlle Dieudji – exhibition director of the MACAAL.
The artists Ale Gabeira(Brazil), Mo Balal and his spouse with Damali.
A section of the invited guests listening to the incisive exposition by the curator, Morad Montazami.
The artist Abdelkader Melehi – brother of Mohamed Melehi, with Damali.


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