For Morocco, highlighting the country’s contribution to centuries of African history and creativity validates the centrality of Africa and Africanness to Moroccan identity.
The National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. recently celebrated contemporary Moroccan art, highlighting Morocco’s contribution to centuries of African creativity and trans-Saharan exchanges.
Kevin Dumouchelle, the curator of the Washington-based museum, said Morocco occupies a special place in the museum’s history of embracing and celebrating Africa’s rich creative traditions.
“Moroccan art and artists remain at the heart of our collection and interpretation projects,” Dumouchelle said in an interview with MAP, Morocco’s state media.
The museum is part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest complex of museums and research centers. Its latest event, with the theme “Golden Caravans, Fragments in Time,” was “initiated with the contribution of Morocco,” MAP reported.
The event featured more than 300 works of art exploring various forms of African artistic expression.
The exhibition covered five centuries of African creativity and displayed “unpublished contributions” from the Moroccan Ministry of Culture, the National Museum Foundation, the Bank Al-Maghrib Museum, and the University of El Jadida.
The Moroccan outlet noted that the exhibition was “an occasion to appreciate the unique role of the Kingdom in pan-African, global and cosmopolitan history.”
Legacy of trans-Saharan exchanges
Blending archaeology, history, and art, the exhibition was an ambitious foray into centuries of African and trans-Saharan cultural practices and exchanges.
It unveiled similarities of techniques and expression, offering to the modern art consumer a valuable window into the vivid legacy of trans-Saharan exchanges.
For Morocco, such art events and ways of approaching centuries of African history constitute a validation of the centrality of Africa and Africanness to Moroccan identity.
In his MAP interview, Dumouchelle spoke warmly about Morocco’s recent national and continental efforts to promote art and creative expression. He described Morocco’s cultural policy as “a valuable and important approach,” noting the country’s investments in renovating its national and regional museums.
“Cultural institutions, such as museums, are not only an essential lever for preservation, documentation, research, teaching, and engagement with heritage and history, but they are also important economic drivers,” he said.
Expressing “great pleasure” with the recent collaboration between Morocco and the National Museum of African Art in Washington, he announced plans to replicate the experience in Morocco.
“The great pleasure of making several trips to the Kingdom in recent years to meet and work with several artists in Morocco in order to develop a future exhibition project,” Dumouchelle said.
Morocco’s cultural scene
Moroccan artists have long criticized the country’s cultural policy, mainly expressing discontent with authorities’ perceived lack of interest in investing in art and promoting Moroccan creativity in general.
Houda Gueddari, one of Morocco’s most celebrated female artists, recently told Morocco World News that Moroccan politics stifle the country’s creative landscape.
“Morocco has no policy to promote its own artists. We turn on the TV and there is nothing to stimulate children’s intelligence or make the ordinary Moroccan a more cultured, educated, and informed citizen. Morocco’s political sphere is the first culprit,” Gueddari said.
Most recently, however, there have been some promising signs of an incremental shift toward a more responsive and effective cultural policy.
As Morocco broadcasts itself as a continental trendsetter in a wide range of fields, the country is increasingly embracing cultural events and youth creativity as a way of sharpening its Africa-oriented cultural diplomacy.
Well-attended annual festivals like Mawazine and the Gnaoua World Music Festival, among many others, have surely helped Morocco’s cultural brand.
But there is still a lingering feeling that more needs to be done to both cement Morocco’s aspiring status as a cultural trendsetter and encourage Moroccans to embrace fine arts and other creative pursuits.
Late last month, Morocco’s Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports announced plans to boost its investments in culture and youth creativity. The ministry said it will allocate a budget of MAD 480 million ($52.87 million) for investments in cultural projects in 2021, an increase of 45.45% from its 2020 budget.