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Marrakech Biennale 6: various venues.

Marrakech Biennale 6



The sixth Marrakech Biennale was accompanied by a series of small, free publications (also available as a bound collection) corresponding to each of the fifty-three exhibited works. One of these booklets, penned by Omar Berrada, recounts the life story of the sixteenth-century Sufi mystic and oral poet Abderrahman al-Majdoub, whose quatrains are described as "full of irreverent wit and unexpected humor." The poet, as well as his impact on Ahmed Bouanani, a Moroccan intellectual, film director, artist, and translator of Majdoub's poems, were central to "Memory Games: Ahmed Bouanani Now," a subsection of the Biennale curated by Berrada under the guidance of chief curator Reem Fadda. "Memory Games" examined the texts of both via projects by artists Yto Barrada, Touda Bouanani, Ah Essafi, Mohssin Harraki, and Sara Ouhaddou. Through a delicate process of translation and cultural syncretism, Barrada created a set of banners that interweave her musings on the poet's verses and Bouanani's translations with personal reflections on memory and the loss of it. Barrada's fabric was collected from domestic spaces of the Moroccan bourgeoisie over a period of time; the artist transformed these textiles by embroidering over them and splicing multiple weavings into collages of individual and collective stories. In her hands, the domestic (and traditionally feminine) work of sewing became a subversive act. The artist converted the gallery into a military vessel of sorts, festooned with battle flags. These were hung from the upper cornices of the gallery, above display cases that contained Bouanani's archival documents and drawings by Ouhaddou. Majdoub's poetry did not lose its intensity in the process, and, in fact seemed remarkably contemporary. Its inclusion served as a reminder of the legacy of Pan-African and Pan-Arab exchanges that formed the foundation for the exhibition's greater critical discourse.

Barrada's installation was situated in the Bahia Palace, a sumptuously ornamented compound and one of six principal locations for the Biennale, which this year occupied Marrakech's historical museums and spaces, particularly those in the city's historic Old Medina neighborhood. As a result, the expo provided a meditative respite from its dense, hectic urban surroundings. Fadda's title, "Not New Now," acknowledged that the point of departure for the show was the extraordinary richness of the city and its role as a cultural hub where African and Arab traditions intersect. This proximity afforded the show its vitality--a biennial moving beyond the anxiety of the "new" to consider ways to responsibly inhabit the present. This theme was evidenced by many of the works on view, including a 2015 video by Superflex titled Kwassa Kwassa (inspired by the postcolonial situation of Mayotte, one of the Comoro Islands, which becomes a metaphor for the idea of Europe); Megumi Matsubara's "A Proposal for a Textbook to Learn Braille, English, and Other Languages," 2012 (a series of bronze sculptures cast from clay models made by blind children with whom the artist worked, and brought to life in her performance in the basement spaces of the El Badi Palace); Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti's The Book of Exile, 2016 (a collection of stories about Palestinian refugee camps, which the calligrapher Abdelghani Ouida also transcribed into a performance in the Koutoubia Mosque); and the Otolith Group's In the Year of the Quiet Sun, 2013 (a film that tracks the production of a set of stamps printed by the Ghanaian government, between 1964 and 1965, as a form of propaganda and celebration of the first international expedition to explore the surface of the sun, in which Ghana took part). The Biennale thus considered how intersecting historic narratives shape the cultural and political present, and suggested that an understanding of the past is critical to our ability to navigate the political present, and to make the decisions that will determine our shared future.

--Paola Nicolin

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
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Title Annotation:Morocco
Author:Nicolin, Paola
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:6MORO
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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