By Ayesha Ulhaq
Fez 2nd International Artist Gathering kicked off to successful start, as the event attracted a sizeable and diverse audience, gauging both international and local interest.
Opening the three-day event, a panel and presentation was held on Friday January 13, in Dar Batha, located in the old medina of Fez, Morocco.
Photographers and participants from Germany, Morocco, France and England came together to showcase their work and discuss the place of art and photography in a time of crisis.
The discussions focused on how art and social responsibility can be combined to create evocative forms of expression and even rewrite policies. Unsurprisingly, the main topic of crisis referred to the refugee crisis and how the increase of right wing movements across Europe and the West in general, has impacted our society. Omar Chennafi, the gathering’s director, chose Germany as the guest country of honor for the gathering.
When asked about the reasoning for the choice, Chennafi offered this explanation, “Firstly, its capital, Berlin, attracts artists from all over the world to study art, to work with one another and to live in a dynamic city. Secondly, Germany is the main European country dealing with the issues of refugees and how best to integrate them into a new society, culture and country.”
Compared with other European countries, Germany welcomed the most refugees in 2015, with an estimated 1.1million refugees accepted and plans to accept more over the coming years.
Michael Grieve, the first to speak on the panel, expressed the idea that photographers are guilty for not taking enough risks in their work. “In an environment where we are surrounded by the toxic culture of television, advertisement and a culture of individualism, we as artists and photographers have not done enough to challenge societal problems.”
Grieve went on to speak about the lack of opportunity for photographers, especially in the field of education. Universities, he contended, “are commercialized and students are treated like clients. There are too many rules and not enough freedom.”
The second panelist, M’hammed Kilito, a Moroccan photographer, said that “Morocco offers very few opportunities for individuals to pursue their interest in photography. There isn’t a single school of photography in Morocco, there are only workshops and classes that are run every now and then.”
Kilito also mentioned how street photography is disliked in Morocco. “Authorities in public spheres have previously interrogated people openly taking photographs on the street. Moroccans in general, are also very cautious about having their picture taken as they feel threatened”.
German photographer Evi Blink, took the opportunity to emphasize how visual art and photography can impact the world. Referring to the famous photo of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who washed up dead on a beach in Turkey while trying to reach Europe with his family, Blink reminded attendees of the power a single photo can generate. The Kurdi photo went viral at the time and touched the hearts of millions around the world.
The 2nd Annual Fez Gathering will continue to run over the weekend with a full lineup of discussions, debates, exhibitions and concerts.