Monday, January 02, 2017

Fez Exhibition Reveals Moroccan Girls' Dreams

Home Sweet Home: Moroccan Girls Draw and Paint their Hopes, Dreams and the Meaning of Home opens on Wednesday at 7 pm at ALIF Riad. It offers an insight into the lives of a group of disadvantaged young Moroccan women

Faiza by Joan Marie Kelly
The more than 30 artworks on display in the exhibition are the result of a series of workshops held over a month by artist and urban ecologist, Joan Marie Kelly, at the Centre for the Protection of Girls at Ziat. As well as the artwork by the girls, Joan has painted four of the girls portraits.

Joan says, "I asked them what did they dream for their future? How did they see themselves in 10 years? It was not easy to get these girls to draw themselves. They drew the home that they dreamed to have: including gardens, swimming pools and themselves participating in family activities."

As she wanted them to express themselves through their art, Joan didn't ask about the experiences that had led the girls to being in the institution. "I didn't want to have any preconceived ideas," she says.

Joan Marie Kelly is Senior Lecturer in the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The university generously sponsored the month long project, assisted by the American Language Center in Fez.

"I'm interested in investigating urban settings and the complexity of the social circumstances of an urban setting," she says. "I try to find out this by doing work with a minority community...investigating from the bottom up, as a way to get to know that society."

Her previous projects include collaborations with sex workers in Kolkata, India, and domestic workers from Bangladesh resident in Singapore. "I want to transform perspectives," she says. With her portraits of the girls at the Girl's Centre in Ziat, she explains, "I wanted to honour these girls by painting them; to raise their status." Part of doing this was by painting the subjects against backgrounds of flora and fruit as Leonardo da Vinci painted Ginevra de'Benci surrounded by leafy trees and landscape.

The process of how the artworks were created

Joan has participated in two previous exhibitions in Morocco - as part of the Casablanca Biennale, and as one of a number of artists attempting to create the world's longest painting in Marrakech. On a visit to Fez two years ago, she met the Director of the American Language Center, David Amster, who suggested she return to do a project at the Centre for Protection of Girls.

Joan Marie Kelly
Joan was assisted during her residency in Fez by psychologist Meryem Bouchnafati, economist Firdaous Bakhchane, and members of the ALC-ALIF Community Service Club.

"I had no idea that the young people here would be so supportive," she says. "I was very taken by their initiative, outreach and generosity. To do extra curricular activities for no money; to be so committed with their time...I never imagined that I could depend on people like this. I had thought I would need to be much more familiar with the language. But all kinds of people helped me."

Joan began at the Centre for the Protection of Girls by bringing in oranges for the girls to draw. On their first attempt, the girls depicted the orange as a flat shape. "I was teaching them how to see light and shade on an object; how to use the eraser, and erase out the lights and draw in the shadows; to notice light and tone. I was getting them to understand, 'I am not just drawing, I am actually observing - I am looking at that orange'. We discussed what it was we were seeing - the act of seeing...from there we went to tea pots and other objects, and then to doing drawings from our imagination."

Fifteen girls aged 11 - 16 years old took part in the project, and Joan was delighted by their enthusiasm. She gave them the materials - boards, big paper clips and copious amounts of drawing paper. "One girl who was 16, Najima, really took off. Every day she had another 10 drawings. It was amazing to see what someone like her could achieve in just a month - she really started to draw about her life."

"Driving Home From a Wedding" by Najima

"I was sorry to leave right when they were starting to share what was in their heart...It was good for them to have an experience like that. The very act of giving attention and listening to people - placing importance and value on their options and their wants, is therapeutic for anybody."

Joan values the time she spent in Fez and the collaboration she had with the girls. "Art is the visual language we shared."

She would like to view this as the beginning of a long relationship and collaboration with the girls and others in the Fez community. Joan envisages an expanded version of the project which could be shown in New York and other cities. "I would love to work with them to design murals (for the Girl's Centre), to get that place to generate energy, and create an uplifting atmosphere; to personalise the environment." Other possibilities include working with a writer who could tutor writing, " the girls could write stories that could be made into a book. I would like to design the book and illustrate the stories."

When: Exhibition opens Wednesday, January 4 at 7 PM. 
It runs until January 12 and is open daily from 4.30 pm - 6.30 pm.
Where: ALIF Riad, 6 Derb Drissi, Batha, Fez



cascades said...

What a gorgeous project. Congratualtions David and Joan!

cascades said...

What a beautiful project. Congratulations David and Joan!

Ali Houissa said...

Beautiful exhibit & Worthy cause!
A. Houissa (Cornell U.)

Ali Houissa said...

Beautiful exhibit & a worthy cause!
A. Houissa (Cornell U.)

Sandy McCutcheon said...

Great story, Suzanna