The objective of Artmazigh Day was to “create a ‘tangible’ space online where Amazigh artists could interact with people of shared origins, cultures and experiences.”
From November 29 to 30, 2020, the Amazigh and the art community witnessed the remarkable event of Artmazigh Day, which brought together talented Amazigh artists on social media who illustrated their identity and culture through art.
Amazigh and its plural Imazighen mean “the free and noble people.” They are self-named people who populated most North African regions across the Mediterranean and Atlantic coast to the Sahel, long before Arabization.
Spain previously named Amazigh people “Berbers,” after the Arabs enlisted Amazigh men as warriors for the Hispanic country. The Indigenous communities have long preferred others to call them Amazigh rather than Berber, which stems from the Greek word for barbarians, referring to non-Romanians.
Today Amazigh people live in communities across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Mali, Niger, and Mauritania, with the largest Amazigh populations found in Morocco and Algeria. Due to the Amazigh diaspora, many people with Amazigh origins live around Europe.
Approximately 18 to 30 million people speak the Amazigh language, which has four main dialects: Northern, Western, Eastern, and Tuareg. In Morocco, Amazigh people speak three main variants: Tamazight, Riffian, and Tashelhit, while in Algeria they speak Kabyle, Chaoui, and Mozabite. In 2011, Morocco made Amazigh an official language in the country in addition to Arabic. Algeria soon followed, officializing the language in 2016.
Amazigh people have always celebrated their unique, rich heritage and beautiful art forms, evident in their culture, traditions, clothing, and wisdom.
Through centuries of Arabization, many people with Amazigh origins have failed to preserve their cultural and linguistic heritage, and most of them identify as Arab. However, today’s generation has proven keen to break the chain and reclaim their identity and heritage, through language, culture, and art.
Inspired by other initiatives and hashtags on Twitter such as #Artmobarak, 22-year-old Algerian of Kabyle origin Safiya Zerrougui created the hashtag Artmazigh using her Twitter platform. She aimed to create a similar space for Amazigh artists, who are often underrepresented voices in the art community.
“Having participated in the event myself, I felt firsthand the joy and pride that comes with celebrating your own culture,” the Montreal-based freelance illustrator told Morocco World News.
According to Safiya, the objective of Artmazigh Day was to create a space online where Amazigh artists could interact with people of shared origins, cultures, and experiences.
“On top of this, it was a great way to boost Amazigh talent: everyone was encouraged to look through the hashtag and support the artists by following them and interacting with their works.”
To the young illustrator, being Amazigh is an integral part of who she is. It gives her a sense of pride and community, with its rich culture and history.
“It means the music I was raised on, the folk tales my mother told me as a child, the beautiful dresses I wore for Eid every year, and so much more. Just as I am Algerian, I am also Amazigh.”
Having a rich and colorful culture has inspired and motivated Safiya to create and illustrate characters and stories that represent her beautiful heritage. Through the process, she was able to meet many talented Amazigh artists.
The Artmazigh Day initiative was very successful as it witnessed participation from Amazigh artists from all around North Africa, Europe, and across the world to celebrate their unique culture through their creativity on different social media platforms.
“I was really excited to see so many people participating and supporting each other, which was the primary goal for the event. It really felt like a sorely needed celebration during a year that’s been otherwise quite bleak globally!” said Safiya.
Inspired by her grandmother’s Amazigh tattoos, Camelia Khadraoui is a 23-year-old rising Moroccan artist who found passion in preserving Amazigh culture by sharing information on the traditions and culture through her illustrations.
Using her artistic talent, Camelia draws a collection of illustrations where she showcases Amazigh traditional tattoos and explains the art form, its meaning, and its significance.
Canada-based Ihsane is another talented Moroccan-Amazigh artist who told stories through illustrations showcasing the Moroccan-Amazigh culture as part of Artmazigh Day.
Just like many Moroccans, due to Arabization, Ihsane’s grandmother could not pass the Amazigh language to her father. However, growing up the young artist’s father would always tell her folkloric bedtime stories that were passed down through generations and that always stayed in her mind.
“There’s so much to explore visually when it comes to the art I make to portray Moroccan culture, it’s my biggest inspiration, I think. The clothing, landscapes, and makeup are so diverse from one region to the next and full of history and meaning, I can’t help but draw it,” Ihsane told Morocco World News.
Drawing Moroccan characters and telling their stories comes naturally for Ihsane because it is the perspective she is most familiar with and one that is a constant source of inspiration and ideas.
Reconnecting with Amazigh heritage
Seventeen-year-old Leia L, who is half Japanese and half Moroccan, feels that she has always been more connected with her Japanese side, linguistically and culturally. Participating in the Artmazigh Day event was an opportunity for her to get more in touch with her other half, especially since she identifies as Amazigh as well.
“So I’ve always felt a little distant from Amazigh Moroccan culture and I’m trying to fix that by studying it and making it into art,” Leia told Morocco World News.
As for Abby, who is a 21-year-old Moroccan with Amazigh origins, she decided to integrate her culture in her art due to a disconnect she has always felt but only started becoming aware of once she moved to France.
Integrating Amazigh culture in her illustrations was a way for her to reconnect with her heritage and roots and learn more about Amazigh history so she can further represent her culture through art.
“Amazigh culture was not something actively taught back home so my only connections to my culture are my origins and the beautiful face and arm tattoos I’d see my mouima (grandma) wearing,” Abby told Morocco World news.
In the end, Safiya found the initiative an important success. “To all my fellow Amazigh creatives, I want to highlight how invaluable our voices are! We have a unique perspective to offer in our art, literature, or any other field. Seeing how successful it was this time around, #Artmazigh will definitely be a recurring event – I’ll look forward to meeting more of you!”