November 27, 2018

Moroccan reality as art

Interview: artist-in-residence Adam Belarouchia. "The global virtual world is just a mouse-click away, but such a far cry from the reality of Moroccan society"

Project ‘Ch3el el Dow’ by Adam Belarouchia

By Myriam Sahraoui

“Yesterday I strolled through the streets of Amsterdam and saw how well-kept and well-organised everything is. I saw the wealth of art and culture everywhere in the city, it almost made me weep.” Adam Belarouchia (25) is an artist from Morocco and an artist-in-residence at the Thami Mylene Foundation since 1 October. “It almost made me weep for joy that I have the opportunity to be here and to get a taste of the Netherlands."

"But it almost made me weep to think about my own country, too, where there is such a lack of awareness regarding art and culture and our wonderful heritage. And where life isn’t exactly easy for artists.” We are seated in the beautiful spacious studio at Ten Katestraat in Amsterdam West, where Adam will spend the next few months living and working and wondering at the world. Adam belongs to a generation of young Moroccan artists for whom the global virtual world is just a mouse-click away, but such a far cry from the reality of Moroccan society.

Japanese animations
Adam was born in a working class neighbourhood in Rabat, 25 years ago, as the son of an iron smith and housewife. As a child he spent all day making drawings, but as a young adult he enrolled to study chemistry on account of a fascination for experiments and science. But he found the academic world too formal, and casually submitted an application to the art academy of Tetuan. To his surprise he was accepted, which has given him the opportunity to explore and express his colourful and experimental picture of the world[BE1] .  His work is strongly inspired by Japanese animations from the 1990s. He is due to graduate from Tetuan’s Academie des Beaux Arts this summer.

Turn on the light
Adam responds to his environment through his art. He draws inspiration from the urban Moroccan subcultures and depicts them using various (digital) media. He started with making GIFs and illustrations, after which he made an animation titled ‘Ana Hna’, which means ‘I am here’. For this he won a prize at the FICAM animation festival, held in Meknes. In 2017 Adam created the project ‘Ch3el Dow’ for art centre l’Uzine in Casablanca, with the title: ‘Turn on the light’. It consisted of visual compositions based on paintings, combined with ingenious electrical installations. Incidentally, the figure 3 in the word is used for the transcription of words from Moroccan dialect; it is a guttural sound for which there are no letters in the Latin alphabet.

Folkloric expressions
Adam uses the codes he learnt from the environment in which he grew up; for example, the folkloric expressions used in the Moroccan Darija dialect. These expressions underline the evocative power of his work[BE2] . He uses words such as ‘wakha’ which means ‘agreed’[BE3] , or ‘z3am’: ‘stay strong’. Adam mounts these expressions as neon light tubes on images and paintings, creating a strong contrast.

Repressive school system
His graduation piece titled ‘Aqul! Isma3!’, meaning ‘I say, I listen!’, addresses the Moroccan educational system. The idea for this work came to him after realising that his 10-year-old sister was going through the same repressive educational system as he did as a little boy. “The Moroccan school system just doesn’t seem to change, unfortunately. It is a system that offers no room for personal expression, autonomy, or the development of an individual voice. It makes me sad, but also combative. That’s why I created this graphic novel[BE4] , in which I drew a world in which the pupils are condemned to the role of passive observer, and the teachers all have an authoritarian role.” It is a world of mouths and of ears. The order of the mouths and the order of the ears, which say ‘I say, I listen’.

Gangster culture
Here in Amsterdam, Adam is working on a new research project about the Moroccan gangster culture that young people adopt on social media. Referred to as ‘mscharmel’ in Moroccan[BE5] , it means something like ‘marinated’. Adam will be talking about this and other things during a cultural talk on Friday 7 December, from 4 to 6pm. This event is organised jointly with Zinaplatform. If you would like to attend, please contact Myriam Sahraoui.

Written by Myriam Sahraoui – Advisor Morocco at DutchCulture

More information available via thami-mnyele.nl