“I chose to integrate Amazigh culture in my recreations because I am Amazigh and I believe the culture is rich with many artistic features.”
Agadir native Zineb Bouchra is an artist who brings Oriental and Renaissance paintings to life in a unique Moroccan, Amazigh (Berber) style to promote the culture and lifestyle.
The 18-year-old artist started recreating famous paintings and other iconic images in April, at the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine. She chose works such as Leonardo Da Vinci’s archetypal portrait masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, and the amazing self-portrait of Mexican legend Frida Kahlo.
Inspired by the Moroccan and Amazigh cultures, Zineb recreates paintings using traditional Moroccan clothes such as djellaba and caftans.
The djellaba is a long dress with a hood that both Moroccan men and women wear, though women usually sport more colorful varieties than men. The caftan is one of the other most famous pieces of Moroccan traditional clothing, originally adopted from the Ottoman Empire and since adapted to fit the Moroccan style.
Finding inspiration in the Amazigh culture
In many of her recreations, Zineb also uses Amazigh clothing, jewelry, and face tattoos to promote Amazigh culture, history, and lifestyle.
“I chose to integrate Amazigh culture in my recreations because I am Amazigh and I believe the culture is rich with many artistic features, and also because I saw Europeans recreating their culture, and I had the idea to integrate my own in my recreations to add a unique touch,” Zineb Bouchra told MWN.
Amazigh means “free people.” The Amazigh people chose the name for themselves. They do not use the name the Romans titled them with, “Berber,” relating to “barbarian.” Amazigh people came to North Africa centuries ago, with 80% Moroccans identifying as Amazigh today.
Sometimes Zineb integrates her Amazigh culture in her recreations by wearing a head cover called “tahruyt” and long embroidered dresses with unique tribal symbols and motifs.
The artist also uses Amazigh jewelry, which is passed from one generation to another, consisting of big silver bracelets, necklaces, earrings, brooches, and head ornaments.
Amazigh women use henna and other products believed to have “baraka,” which means “blessing of the saint,” to tattoo their faces as a coming of age tradition. The tattoos feature the tribal symbols, designs, and colors that differentiate each Amazigh tribe, a practice showcased in Zineb’s recreations.
Zineb Bouchra’s artistic process and journey
Zineb is majoring in Art at the National Institute of Fine Arts in Tetouan. She conducts research on classical art history, which helps her embody the art she is recreating.
To set up a look, the artist first finds the perfect painting and then thinks about the traditional Moroccan clothing items that can best represent the culture.
“Since we were quarantined, the concept was to only use what I have at home, instead of buying the outfit, I use my grandma’s wardrobe, I combine the clothes, I learn the pose, and then I take the picture,” said Zineb.
Despite worries that her family would not support her artistic aspirations, Zineb stayed resilient and committed to pursuing her passion.
“At first, they [my family] hesitated, but after they always support me in everything I do. I am really grateful for that,” said Zineb.
Inspired by contemporary Moroccan artist Hassan Hajjaj, designer Hicham Lahlou, painter and novelist Mahi Binebine, as well as the renowned modernist painter Ahmed Cherkaoui, and orientalist painter Eugène Delacroix, the young artist does not put herself in one box. Instead, she likes to create and indulge in many art forms and themes to truly find herself.
Alongside painting, drawing, and photography, Zineb also creates illustrations. They represent common expressions our Moroccan grandparents used, still used to this day, and also words that the young generation uses in Darija, Moroccan Arabic.
“I had the idea to represent the expressions in a funny way,” Zineb explained.
The significance of art
Art is a vast concept that has existed since the beginning of mankind. Its forms are endless and can vary from painting and sculpting to singing and writing, and so on.
Not only is art an important and creative way to communicate ideas, opinions, values, and social issues, but it is also a tool that humans use to connect with others and understand themselves better. Art allows us to explore new things, helps us stay calm and centered, and brings joy.
Zineb discusses the role art has played in her life. It saved her from feelings of being lost and not belonging when she felt she was not a good student.
“Art helped me analyze and see things in a different way. Art helped me believe in myself and feel free.”
Undertaking her goal to start a career as a painter, Zineb knew that artists play a major role in promoting and showcasing their society’s culture, traditions, and lifestyle. Art helps these stay alive so a society does not lose its identity.
“Through their work artists send messages to the world, they always seek to prove a point, and their brains contain a lot of ideas that can help the society,” added the young artist.
With over 11,000 followers on Instagram, Zineb hopes to inspire Moroccans, especially the young generation, to keep in touch with and embrace their culture and traditions while promoting it through art or their other passions.