The fifth Fez Gathering aimed to inspire dialogue on how the creative arts impact today’s economy and people’s everyday lives.
Fez – The fifth annual International Artist Gathering of Fez, held from January 9 to 12, invited the public to participate in craft-making workshops, observe artistic exhibitions, and enjoy food, mint tea, and music with artists.
With a focus on creative economies, the event aimed to inspire dialogue on how the creative arts impact today’s economy and people’s everyday lives, and how the creative economy can contribute to human development.
The free event, held at a historic riad in the city’s ancient medina owned by the Arabic Language Institute in Fez (ALIF), kicked off on Thursday, January 9 with an exhibition of works by local, national, and international artists.
The exhibition featured a collection of calligraphic works by Idriss Nari, Zakaria Msslek, Abderrahim Oujaha, Abderrahim Zhairi, Abdesslam Rihani, and Brahim Chahir. The majority of these contemporary Moroccan artists are Fez natives, and all have participated in national art exhibitions.
The opening exhibition also featured works by Niccy Pallant, an Australian artist who has spent the last three years immersed in the craft and culture of Morocco.
Exploring traditional Moroccan crafts
The event’s first public workshops were held on Friday, January 10, beginning with a lesson in drawing Moroccan geometry from Hamza El Fasiki, a multi-medium artist, musician, writer, and social entrepreneur.
El Fasiki comes from a family of Fezi craftsmen. He picked up the trade well into his adult life and now has a business in Fez called ‘Craft Draft’ where he teaches a variety of workshops, from woodworking to engraving silver and brass plates.
Lamiae Skalli, a self-taught jewelry maker and Fezi entrepreneur, held the second workshop of the event. During her workshop, she taught participants how to carve and engrave silver for a bracelet.
Skalli only began learning the trade a year ago but has mastered the skill enough to run her own studio and small business. She makes earrings, rings, bracelets, and necklaces and works primarily with silver.
On Friday evening, the International Artist Gathering held a panel discussion on the creative economy and cultural goods.
The presenters included El Fasiki and his wife, Miriam Hicklin, who runs a women’s collective in Fez. Her organization works to engage with, lend support to, and empower local women artisans in Morocco’s spiritual capital.
Neil van der Linden, an art curator from the Netherlands, also participated in the discussion. The audience heard from Ali Gharib, a visual artist from Germany.
The panelists discussed their individual trades and avenues of creative expression and heard from audience members who posed questions relating to the worth of art and artists, how to preserve one’s heritage while adapting to modernity, and the evolution of the arts.
The night ended with a hearty potluck dinner, inviting the audience and panelists to engage in further discussion over plates of couscous and kefta.
Immersing in local art
The third day of the International Artist Gathering of Fez began with a printmaking workshop led by Pallant.
Pallant spent 25 years working as an arts educator at schools in southern Australia. In 2017, she began a two-month International Group Residency in Tetouan in northern Morocco. Ever since, she has been able to pursue her lifelong dream to work as an independent artist.
Although she is based in Australia, Pallant regularly visits Morocco to develop her understanding of traditional Moroccan crafts and culture.
After Pallant’s workshop, digital artist Ewa Potocka invited the event’s participants to embark on an interactive treasure hunt game throughout the old city of Fez.
Saturday afternoon was marked by a fashion exhibit featuring Le Dressing, a colorful brand by Ivory Coast student and entrepreneur Makhanatet Kone.
The designer uses West African fabric and patterns in her collections with the aim of exporting them to Morocco and beyond.
The evening ended with traditional Moroccan music and dinner.
The final day of the event featured a photography rally through the old city of Fez. The photo-based adventure welcomed participants from different communities to explore the medina by matching photos to their locations. The activity invited attendees to get to know Fez while deconstructing social barriers and bridging the gap between old and new.
By breaking down the artificial barriers between established artists and the public, the fifth International Artist Gathering of Fez embodied the principles of its founder, Omar Chennafi, which are to embrace creative expression while expanding human connection.