Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Marrakech Biennale 5 - Where Are We Now?

The Marrakech Biennale 5 opened on February 26 and continues until March 31. There are masses of exhibitions, performances, talks, films and other events in the packed schedule. Suzanna Clarke reports for The View from Fez

Megumi Matsubara with her photographs taken at Jnan Sbil in Fez

The theme of Marrakech Biennale 5 , Where are we now?, is explored by more than 70 artists in four different disciplines - Visual Arts, Literature, Cinema and Video and Performing Arts.

One of those exhibiting is Japanese artist Megumi Matsubara, who has a solo show The Blind Dream, at a recently renovated 400 year old apartment in the Marrakech Medina, Douiria Mouassine in Derb El Hammam.

The Blind Dream is an exquisite solo show, where Megumi interacts with the light and space of the ancient apartment. As you enter, you see a series of nine colourful photographs of flowers on a round mirror table.

"It's all about light," says Megumi. "I took these at different times of day at Jnan Sbil, the public garden in Fez. I kept visiting at different times of day to see the effect. It's more about the light than the flowers. These flowers are illuminated for a very short time, in contrast to the age of the gardens."

Megumi has created small rainbows of light through the apartment with the use of thin pieces of perspex placed on light sources.

In one of the other rooms are 16 images of the red room of Palais Mokri in Fez, where she spent a night to document the colour red. In a room dedicated to moonlight, The Entrance is a quiet photograph from the Sahara Desert. Megumi says, "It invites viewers to the world of blindness, with one's eyes wide open."

In the back room is a music piece translated from Braille characters to the sound of lute. There is also a new limited edition book, The Tale of the Japanese and the Mosquito, the first published volume of a series of eight stories written by Megumi during her stay in the Sahara Desert. It's a delightfully whimsical story, full of evocative images, about the adventures of a Japanese girl and her cat in an ancient labyrinthine city that sounds remarkably like Fez.

Megumi Matsubara discusses her work

The Marrakech Biennale was founded 10 years ago by Vanessa Branson and continues to be directed by her. "It was born as a response to world events," she says. "Western governments seemed to be painting the entire area of North Africa and the Middle East with the same broad brush of distrust and paranoia. There was a real need to find a platform to debate ideas and ideologies. What better way to do this than through the arts?"

"Through the arts, you can discuss contemporary issues without causing offense, you can play around with concepts, change your mind, develop a critical language...Engaging in contemporary culture indicates that a country celebrates free thinking and is confident in its future."

Marrakech Biennale founder and director Vanessa Branson

The artistic director of the Biennale is Alya Sebti, and the Dutch-Moroccan curator Hicham Khalidi is curating the visual arts section.

Using the question Where are we now?, the visual art component examines issues of contemporary identity, providing the opportunity to question current events and what is happening socially and politically.

The art works are spread between the venues of the 16th century Palais Badii, which was
commissioned by the Sultan Al Mansour in 1578, Dar Si Said, which houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, and the former Bank Al Maghrib in the middle of the Jemaa El Fna square. They are all locations which complement each other and show the rich architectural heritage of the city.

On Sunday there was a well attended question and answer session with film director Stephen Frears, whose latest film Philomena, starring Judy Dench, was nominated for an Oscar.

English film director Stephen Frears
Interviewed by documentary maker Alan Yentob, Frears was a lively and entertaining guest, with a self-deprecating sense of humour. His films, such as My Beautiful Laundrette and Dirty Pretty Things, fit well into discussions about identity.

"Laundrette was about children of empire," he explained, "While Dirty Pretty Things focused on immigration - people coming over who had nothing to do with Britain."

Frears said he never searched for particular themes when choosing a film script. "I do films based on real life," he said, "I am perplexed as anything (that they are so successful)."

He downplayed his role as a director, saying that with good actors, "All I have to do is stand at the back and light the touch paper - let good actors do their job."

"It's easy to make a depressing film. The comic bits are necessary."

The crowd at Riad El Fenn for Stephen Frears' talk
The Marrakech Biennale 5 runs until March 31. To see the schedule and for further information CLICK HERE. 

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