When most people think of Marrakech, rarely does street art come to mind. There’s a reason for that—the ancient “red city” of Morocco has never had street art, until now.
For the first time, Marrakech has big roses, abstract shapes and figures around its city, which is all part of the 6th Marrakech Biennale that kicked off in February and runs until May 8.
The street art program is spearheaded by Terence Rodriguez and curated by Vestalia Chilton of Attollo Art and features 14 local and international artists from the UK, Italy and France to splash 10 public murals around the city for the MB6 Street Art Project, the first time the city of Marrakech ever had commissioned street art on its streets.
Marrakech is referred to as the “red city” because the king requested all of the city’s walls to be painted red, or what has turned out to be a salmon or a rose colour.
UK artist Dotmaster painted a cluster of red roses on a building, which he found to be symbolic of the city. “I was very aware I was going to paint in a culture that’s not my own and my usual subjects were not going to work in an Islamic country,” he said. “Islam resists the representation of living beings both man and animals… so my western stuff like trash, toys and rude kids were out. Marrakech is often called the rose city for its colour; everything is painted a reddish brown, coupled with the fact that Morocco is a major producer of rose oil.”
There is even one seaside project by Italian artist Run (Giacomo Bufarini), who created the largest mural in North Africa in the neighbouring town of Essaouira. Bufarini has painted two people communicating across borders on the Moulay Hassan Square. Stretching out 6,400 meters, the mural could be considered symbolic of the current refugee crisis.
Sickboy painted what looks like an organic machine on a wall beside a tobacco vendor and Remi Rough painted a dazzling array of abstract ribbons that shoot into the color-matching blue sky. The French artist LX.one, who is part of the AOC collective, painted red, pink and purple geometric shapes, some which look like a Rubix Cube. Lucy McLauchlan painted a black and white mural of intersecting shapes and German artist MadC (Claudia Walde) took over a giant wall to create a whimsical pink, blue and turquoise composition.
This project all came about through Rodriguez, who knows the Marrakech Biennale founder, Vanessa Branson (sister of Richard Branson).
“It’s the first time it’s been done in Morocco, along with Rabat and Casablanca,” said Rodriguez, noting JIDAR, the Rabat Street Art Festival which launched last summer. “The street art here isn’t organized, there isn’t a tag, it isn’t signed, you don’t know who they are, but it already exists.”
The whole point of the biennale, he said is to make art for Moroccans. Even if several Moroccans don’t know about the biennale, “Street art is for everyone,” he said. “Taxi drivers, shopkeepers, locals and foreigners, the more artists, the more impact we have on the town.”
There have been significant challenges in pulling together a show like this – from bureaucracy to red tape and introducing something that Marrakech has never seen before.
“There was a lot of authorization here, we had to have the agreement of the king’s office, the mayor, the city and the wall owners here,” said Rodriguez.
Making murals here is not like tagging a subway car or painting on an electricity box. “In other countries, street artists paint with spraypaint at night,” he said. “This is first time foreigners have come to organize street art festival—here, the walls have been agreed and we’ve got permission.”
It isn’t your typical angst-ridden messages, either. Although the works here are graphic, stylish and colourful, that could be the end of it—for a reason. “Street art is subversive, it’s anti-government, it has pride, support,” said Rodriguez. “In Marrakech, everyone loves the king. You don’t have lots of anti-government feelings; you might say it’s more decoration than subversive.”
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