The new director of the French Institute in Fez, Philippe Laleu, has brought a breath of fresh air to the artistic life of the city, writes Suzanna Clarke.
Far from being simply an administrator, Laleu is also a practicing video artist, who has a broad understanding of the arts and is taking a creative approach to increasing the number and scope of cultural activities.
Since Laleu assumed the post last November, new initiatives have included renting the Art Deco style Cinema Rex, in Fez's Ville Nouvelle - a French film festival is showing there this weekend. (See story above.) There will also be a festival of documentary films from April 24 to May 4.
Laleu is also keen to expand the artist's residency program at the French Institute's Dar Batha premises in the Medina to include artists of many nationalities. "We want to create a meeting platform; a window onto the world," he says.
Rather than having a residency program where artists and experts come and "teach" locals, Laleu sees the opportunity to create a catalyst; an artists' hub, "where ideas can be exchanged and creativity stimulated".
Other activities planned for Fez include the Change Your Class program, where a classroom in the medina is taken over and transformed, with the help of the pupils, over a two week period. This will be happening from March 16-31 at a local school.
Literary events are also a feature of the French Institute program, with French writer and poet Eric Sadin due to give readings and workshops in Fez from March 16 to April 30.
|New director of the French Institute in Fez, Philippe Laleu|
Laleu's experience with enhancing the cultural life of cities is extensive. Between 1983 to 1990, he trained in painting and art installation in the French city of Cergy, at one of the new breed of French art schools, opened by the Ministry of Culture. Following this, he did a stint as an artist in residency in the Japanese city of Kyoto. "From my first trip to Japan in 1989, I loved it and wanted to go back,"he says.
He got that opportunity when between 1999-2005, when he programmed the cultural calendar for Alliance Francaise in Bangkok, before becoming the director of the French Institute in Yokohama. During his tenure there, Laleu established a number of contemporary events in collaboration with budding venues; huge warehouses lining the Yokohama Bay, which were transformed into massive independent exhibition spaces. Events he programmed included the Yokohama Video Collection, with three French curators creating a show around a common theme. After this, Laleu returned to Bangkok to launch a new art center there.
His posting in Fez came about almost by accident. Laleu had long been enthusiastic about coming to the Maghreb. "In September I passed by Paris, and was encouraged to apply for the posting in Fez." With the winning combination of his artistic talents and administrative aptitude, his appointment was quickly decided.
Laleu's own artistic work has toured extensively in different countries. His 2010 exhibition at St Denis in Paris, Private location ou ses doigts bruns élégants comprised photographs and videos, and a sculpture combining "art toys" - manufactured products and crafts. His artist's statement said, "Philippe Laleu offers a personal view of Asia where clichés, exoticism, modesty and poetry intertwine subtly."
The early signs for Laleu's program in Fez are excellent and the development of his vision, as he learns more about the city, Moroccan culture and his way around the sometimes arcane bureaucracy is keenly awaited.
He has many experienced hands on board to help him. "I have a great team of thirty people here," Laleu says.
You can see the cultural program of the Institut Français de Fes HERE.