“Just outside Marrakech, a magic circle of gravity-defying boulders stands at the entrance to a sleekly repurposed office building, whose rose-pink brick echoes the color of the city walls,” writes Maya Jaggi. “Fatiha Zemmouri’s installation Gravity and Grace is part of “Material Insanity,” a group show of thirty-four artists (twelve of them Moroccan) at the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL). Completed in 2017, it is described by its president, Othman Lazraq, as the “first museum of African contemporary art in Africa.” (The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) in Cape Town later that year.) The private collection of his father, the hotel developer Alami Lazraq, forms the basis of the museum, situated next to a family-owned golf course that is also a sculpture park. Of more than 2,000 pieces, “60 to 70 percent” are African, roughly half of those Moroccan. Since 2010, the collection has embraced sub-Saharan art—a move in accord with the Casablanca Group’s disregard for colonial borders.
For Othman Lazraq, an architect, in a country where “98 percent of Moroccans have never been to a museum, and only 0.3 percent of the national budget is for culture,” the private museum has a mission to make art accessible to a wider public. He quoted me the Prix Goncourt-winning , who reinforced the Casablanca Group’s stance with a famous rallying cry in Souffles in 1970: “An end to the myth of art meant only for initiated intellectuals… The artist needs to learn the language of the masses.”
“In Morocco, we have art but it’s foreigner-led and for an international audience,” Meriem Berrada, the museum’s artistic director, told me. “Tourists are the first audience—but that’s changing.” Estimated visitor numbers have grown from just 500 a year at the beginning to as many as 10,000, a fifth of them school children. On monthly “Couscous Fridays,” invited groups such as women’s associations, gardeners, and taxi-drivers eat in the grounds before getting a guided tour of the museum. “Material Insanity” presents art works in a prodigious range of materials, often associated with trade and waste. Its everyday matter, the museum’s exhibitions director, Janine Gaëlle Dieudji, said, provides a “way to engage our public: a kid from the Medina can recognize and reconnect with familiar objects from daily life.””
For more information, visit macaal.org.
Al Maaden, Sidi Youssef Ben Ali,