The Art of Orange Juice
That ambitious, thought-provoking art and socio-political commitment are not contradictory concepts, but in fact belong together, is a conviction that motivates members of the Casablanca artists' collective "La Source du Lion". Martina Sabra takes a closer look
It's a hot summer's afternoon in Casablanca's Hermitage Park. Tucked away at one end of this green city space and shaded by tall palm and eucalyptus trees sits a small rectangular building, its doors flung wide open. Here in the park it is home to the school for young aspiring artists run by "La Source du Lion" (spring or fountain of the lion) artists' group.
The 14-year-old grammar school pupil Soufian is working on a watercolour with green lilies while workshop coordinator Tarek Fayed provides helpful advice on perspective.
The free summer art courses for young people may seem ordinary enough, but appearances are deceptive. Until recently, the once venerable Hermitage Park has been used as one of Casablanca's largest rubbish dumps. "It was a no-go area", says architect Nadia Jebrou, of "La Source du Lion".
The fact that the residents of the low-income housing areas surrounding the park are now once more able to use it as a source of recreation is in no small measure thanks to the efforts of the artists' collective.
The group has not only helped to save the park itself through its attention-grabbing, high-profile art events, but also to secure its long-term future by successfully fighting for its restoration as well as for the right to participation in that process of local residents.
The project is proving so successful with the local authorities that they are now planning similar projects for other parks in Casablanca.
The art of communication
Artists Hassan Darsi, Rachid L'Moudenne and Mohammed Fariji, along with other colleagues, set up "La Source du Lion" in 1995 after they became involved in collaboration on a long project in the Ain Sebaa (eye of the lion) district of Casablanca.
The extended collective now has around two dozen artists as members, as well as people interested in art, from all over Morocco. Painters, sculptors, video artists, town planners and journalists are all involved, united by a common belief that art is not only about ability, but also about communication.
"Art is not just about creating interesting objects which are there to be looked at, touched or 'consumed' through any of the other senses, for that matter," explains art expert and curator Florence Renault-Darsi, also a member of the collective.
"Art is also about creating relationships and allowing spontaneous, original forms of interaction between people, art and everyday life. How people react to these stimuli is not for us to dictate. We simply want to encourage people to look at things in a different way."
Art as performance and hands-on experience
Crucial in this respect are the so-called "Passerelles" (bridges). These performances and interactive events with their accompanying symposia, initiated in 2002 in Hermitage Park, have since become annual features of various districts of Casablanca. Expansion to other parts of Morocco is already on the cards.
An important characteristic of the "Passerelles" is their openness in both form and content. In 2006, the artist Hassan Darsi covered the length of a 327-metre wall in Hermitage Park with 78 photographs of people he had seen there over the course of a single day.
Hasnaa Sabir from the art college in Casablanca, decided to set up a ballot box in one area of the city, where he then invited people to deposit their ideas and suggestions. The performance artist Mohamed El Baz organised a silent demonstration involving young people.
Guest artist Michel Moffarts from Belgium offered cups of fresh orange juice to passers-by, whilst encouraging them to get involved in thinking about the colour orange: "It was not just about the various political connotations of the colour, in Ukraine or Lebanon," explains Darsi "orange is simply a very complex colour."
This year will see a group of fellow artist from Europe demonstratively calling attention to the topic of migration by opting to travel by ship from the French port of Sète to Tangiers.
A house of artists
Hassan Darsi is currently working on an audio collage on the Moroccan parliamentary election due to be held in September 2007, a kind of virtual "soviet" republic, which is to be published in book form and on the Internet. This is not, however due to any wish to be seen as a political artist.
"For me the autonomy of art is primary," says Hassan Darsi. "I'm not interested in trying to make people look at the world in a particular way. To me, it is much more about letting people see that one can look at the world in different ways and perhaps, by doing so, see things that they may not have noticed before."
In order to be able to preserve this autonomy, however, artists need freedom, and they need places in which they will be allowed to work and communicate without disturbance. "La Source du Lion" therefore wants to establish a permanent base in Casablanca where Moroccan and international artists can meet and have the opportunity of collaborating from time to time.
An appropriate house has already been found. But the financial details still need to be finalised. "We are moving forward bit by bit, a little at a time, we want to make sure we get as many sponsors on board as we can, not just one, who would then want to dictate terms to us," Hassan Darsi explains.
Part of the sum will come from Moroccan and European colleagues at the next "Passerelle in July. A total of 25 well-known artists have donated works with the proceeds from their sales going directly towards the purchase of the artists' house for the members of "La Source du Lion".
© Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Ron Walker