Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat—Rarely is the art of an Arab country afforded the attention Moroccan works are now receiving in France. Two exhibitions have simultaneously been dedicated to Morocco: the first will be hosted by the Louvre, the second by the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute). The exhibition at the Louvre, Medieval Morocco: An Empire from Africa to Spain, focuses on artistic production in the country from the 11th to the 15th centuries CE. In contrast, the institute’s Contemporary Morocco exhibit unveils the country’s modern pieces.
Both exhibitions were inaugurated by Moroccan Princess Lalla Meryem on behalf of her brother King Mohammed VI on Tuesday. The displays form part of A Moroccan Autumn in Paris, a program of city-wide events celebrating Moroccan culture that are being held in honor of the tenth anniversary of the Friendship and Cooperation Pacts signed with the Moroccan cities of Rabat and Casablanca.
Asharq Al-Awsat toured the Louvre exhibition before it opens to the public today. In the Napoleon Hall where the works are displayed, president of the Louvre Jean-Luc Martinez describes the pieces from a succession of Moroccan dynasties—Almoravid, Almohad, and Marinid—as “exceptional.” Most of the 300 works have never been seen outside Morocco, and it is the first time all the artefacts have been assembled in one place, says Martinez.
According to Yannick Lintz, the director of the Department of Islamic Art at the museum, the medieval period of Morocco’s history is relatively unknown in the West in spite of its cultural, intellectual and artistic brilliance. The era gave rise to new cities that were once the capitals of successive dynasties that extended from sub-Saharan Africa to Spain. The pieces were brought together from Morocco, Spain, Mali, Mauritania and Tunisia.
The collection is designed to show visitors some of the distinctive artistic features of the medieval period, including the architecture, engineering, Islamic ornamentation, textiles, pottery and calligraphy of the time.
The organizers have arranged the artefacts chronologically to link them with their historical context and geography. For each historical period special emphasis is given to the centers of power and capitals in what the museum terms “Western Islam.” From the Idrisid dynasty that established Fez back in 801 CE to the Marinids who took control of the city over 400 years later, the exhibition tracks the victory and defeat of successive civilizations and their art.
Some of the most important pieces include the chandelier from the famed Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque in Fez, made of polished copper in the early 13th century CE—it used to hold 520 oil lamps. Manuscripts, textiles, jewels and engravings bear witness to the artisans that shined in North Africa and Andalusia hundreds of years ago, whose work deserves to be showcased to the rest of the world.
On the other side of the Seine, the Institut du Monde Arabe is displaying the work of 80 living artists from different generations; from the beginnings of modern Moroccan art to the youth of today who are experimenting with new techniques. The Contemporary Morocco exhibition includes various art mediums including dance, cinema, architecture, music, literature and fashion.
The institute has sought to shed light on the recent artistic renaissance sweeping across Morocco, often expressed through the frustrations and aspirations of its youth. In music, for instance, the songs performed by Moroccan rappers give voice to the sense of oppression experienced by the youth as well as their hopes and dreams. This generation belongs to the innovative intercontinental tribes, rather than the nationalists who produce patriotic art. These youthful artists address the entire world and produce work that is not inward-looking.
Moroccan writer Taher Ben Jelloun said of the exhibition: “Most of the innovative artists who met in this exhibition do not know each other. Yet, their works of art are conducting a dialogue with one another and are causing clamor and uproar, leaving traces and reverberations behind. However, some of the exhibits are turning their back on each other, yet they all depict an amazing tableau.”
The exhibition complements the Louvre’s display and together they provide an overview of the Morocco of old and new.
Medieval Morocco: An Empire from Africa to Spain opens on October 17, 2014 and will run until January 19, 2015 at the Louvre, Paris.
Contemporary Morocco runs from October 15, 2014–January 25, 2015 at the Institut du Monde Arabe, Paris.