Thursday, June 13, 2013

Exploring the Fringe at the Fes Festival of World Sacred Music

The health of any good festival can often be judged by the depth of the fringe. A festival fringe is a sign of a healthy interaction between local and visiting artists. Vanessa Bonnin explores the Fes Festival Fringe and finds it in remarkably good form

Jessica Stephens "My mission is arts for all!"

The Queen of the Festival Fringe scene must surely be Jessica Stephens, Sefrou based artist and cultural coordinator of Culture Vultures. Each year her contribution gets bigger and it’s all for a good cause, bringing art and culture to the streets for everyone to experience.

One week into the Sacred Music Festival and its time to touch base with Stephens and find out how the variety of projects Culture Vultures is involved in have been progressing. We find her manning the pop up art space alZahra on the Talaa Kbira.

“There have been so many highlights!” Stephens said. “Flash mobbing in Seffarine Square with Gershom, the Timbre Flaws Choir singing on the doorstep of the pop up – there were 24 of them and with their kids too, one of them sang with a baby strapped to his chest! The flash mob with Amacita – a group of mixed nationality students from the American high school in Fes – was great too, a few of the Moroccan students hadn’t ever been to the Medina and there they were singing in Seffarine Square.

“The mix of audiences for it is what excites me and the deeper into the Medina we go, the further away from the main festival sites, the more it’s appreciated – we’re giving something to the people of the Medina.”

Another project that Stephens coordinated is the Street Carpet, taking place on construction site a fence in Batha and being made by Colleen Cassar.

“The reactions from Moroccan people in the street to Colleen’s street carpet have been amazing, I’ve had to hold back the tears a few times. People are thanking her for bringing art on to the streets.”

This is the essence of what Stephens does – break down the barriers that make art and culture elitist and only open to a select section of society, by making it accessible in a non-threatening environment.

“The pop up is so much more than a shop or a gallery, it’s about sharing – it’s become a platform, a springboard for artist’s projects, performances, garden walks. It’s not about business it’s about cracking open arts and culture for all people across the spectrum. There’s no other space where you get visitors as diverse as a high-class Parisian, a gnawa mallum and a tanner! My mission is arts for all!”

The Street Carpet concept was the brainchild of Colleen Cassar, who was inspired by a similar idea she saw online, but done in cross-stitch.

“When I looked at the construction site fence the mesh didn’t lend itself to cross-stitch. So I thought a boucherite rug would be more appropriate, given that we wanted to work with recycled fabrics and do something Moroccan,” Cassar said.

The project has become a real community effort, with old djellabas, women’s clothing and fabric off cuts being donated for materials, students stopping to help on their way to an exam and people stopping by every day to witness the progress.

“We’ve had a lot of community interest, congratulations and blessings. Children passing saying God bless, people tooting horns and giving us the thumbs up. Some people discuss with me that they’re really very touched that I would choose to build something using a Moroccan technique,” Cassar revealed.

“People ask me, why did you choose here? To me it’s obvious. It’s about beautifying the site and putting art actively on the street.”

As well as bringing art to the streets her project has educational aspects too, opening up discussions about recycling and teaching children to be resourceful in their general and creative lives.

“I have been surprised at people’s delight and their compliments and well wishes, their desire for this kind of art to continue. What the artwork has done, because it’s public, is to include the community. When we’re finished it will be ephemeral art, it will sit there, get rained on, change colour and eventually fall away, but it will be there as a reminder and hopefully as a piece of inspiration for people.”

A more traditional art exhibition, also coordinated by Jessica Stephens has been on display at Dar Tazi during the festival.

Work by Jessica Stephens, Margaret Lanzanetta, Mohammed Charkaouni and Yassine Khaled
Fine art by Omar Belghiti 

Including works by Omar Belghiti, Brahim Lotfi, Alessandro Ferrando, Margaret Lanzanetta, Mohammed Charkaouni and Yassine Khaled, the art works display a diverse range of styles and techniques.

Mohammed Charkaoui is a Fassi artist whose father is an Imam, he has been practicing for many years and now teaches calligraphy. Yassine Khalid is a young contemporary artist from Sefrou with a smart mind and big ambitions. He trained in Tetouan and, for now, lives and works in Sefrou.

"I believe Yassine will go far," Stephens said."Watch this space."

An interesting concept is the one by Fes-based Spaniard Ferrando, whose two mixed media artworks were created to cherish the memory of Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan scholar and traveller, nicknamed the Marco Polo of Islam.

Alessandro Ferrando

One of the pieces involves a complex network of string, representing the imaginary itinerary that Ibn Battuta covered during his lifetime, in an endless symphony of overlapping lines creating an infinite web. The second piece is a tribute to the first trip to Mecca by the famous explorer, who is represented in the piece by a spherical body – the most perfect kind of shape.

Dror Sinai 
Nadia Fennane at Dar Roumana
Another recent fringe event – not coordinated by Stephens this time, but similar in the concept of giving back to the community, was a benefit concert held at Dar Roumana.

With music by Dror Sinai and belly dancing by Nadia Fennane, the well-attended concert raised over 1000dh, plus donations of books, pens and art supplies for the Centre for Protection of Girls in Fes.

Australian choir Timbre Flaws sang at the ALIF Riad
In another part of the Medina, at the ALIF Riad, the cunningly named Australian choir Timbre Flaws had a hit on their hands when they presented their music to a largely Moroccan crowd of around 60 people. The audience included English language students from the American Language Center, which was hosting the event. The 25 strong community choir, from Sydney, sang a variety of gospel and popular songs from around the world.

Choir director Stuart Davis, left, with Australian choir Timbre Flaws

At some points the crowd was encouraged to join in, which they did with enthusiasm. English student Dounia Bennis wrote in her review: "Timber Flaws should have made the concert longer; they shouldn't have sung just few songs because it was a real joy for ears and pleasure for eyes. Moreover, they insist on playing in a perfect harmony, it was so impressive! I’m sure that it must have taken years of hard work and a big effort in order to succeed such performances."

Text Vanessa Bonnin
Photographs: Vanessa Bonnin, Suzanna Clarke

Fes Festival Fringe program
Fes Festival Medina Map
Fes Festival Food! 
Fes Festival Site

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well done all. Love it. So wish I could have been in Fes this year. x