15 Sep What is Moroccan?
So, its been about 10 days since I last blogged here, and that is not without good reason. I’ve been struggling with a question: What is Moroccan?
At first glace, the answer seems as obvious as it would to any tourist who’d just landed. Morocco is hot, Islamic, and has allot of olives in the food. There are many generalities that are easy to make, and therefor assume to be universally true.
But even the most superficial investigation begins to show the depth of Morocco’s culture, and there is allot of depth, and breadth, to be found. So where do I begin?
There have been so many influences on this culture for thousands of years. The Berbers or Amazighen are considered to be the original people from the area. When the Arab worlds influence came to the Atlas mountains, the Berbers adopted Islam as their religion, but made it their own in the way most native cultures in the same situation do. As well, there are the Tuaregs, who roam as nomads across the Sahara desert, and share many linguistic & cultural similarities with the Berbers.
The Silk road, the worlds oldest trade route, ended here in Morocco, therefore, just as a river becomes a lake, all those influences washed into Morocco to contribute to its cultural development. France & Spain have both claimed Morocco as a ‘protectorate’ from one point in time to another, and so these European influences are ever present and are visible everywhere.
While all of these cultures can been seen on the face of Morocco, its spirit is much harder to capture. To that end, I’ve engaged in many conversations with locals of all strips, ex-pats, and even abroad looking in, in an effort to try and understand, and therefore channel this powerful energy I can feel pervading the earth, walls, people and culture which now surround me.
Miloud & Nabil, who are the craftsmen I am working with primarily, are preoccupied with the same concerns as everybody else I know. They want to be happy, healthy, proud of what they do. I hear this sentiment echoed in nearly every conversation I have with the local craftspeople.
Hakin & Sherif, two Moroccan brothers, whos knowledge of English & theology I personally found to be quite impressive, would explain to me that Faith, or in their case Islam, is so deeply rooted in Moroccan culture that it is not possible to consider one without the other. They put particular emphasise on the idea that it is not important what is believed, but that it is believed in with passion.
Maha, the curator at the Heritage museum here in Marrakech pointed out that Moroccans has always been multicultural, and that their culture has evolved to accept and include new influences. Identity and sometimes even survival has depended on co-operation. She also pointed out that the boarder lines which define Morocco on the map are imposed ones. I suspect the Tuaregs would agree.
What all of this has shown me is that no particular colour or line, craft or textile, even culture can really capture Morocco, it is a ‘family of ideas’ as another Moroccan friend Mikael would say, how they all blend together to make something new, and how over time they fold into each other, destined to repeat the past, but with a hopeful outlook on the future.
As always, I am so happy and grateful to grapple with these ideas. The challenge of capturing that passion and inclusion, its boundlessness and confidence has already shown me so much about myself. As an artist, my hope is to reflect that in my work, as it has been a mirror to me.