A new perspective on Moroccan artist Melehi and his role in shaping Modernism

Veteran Moroccan artist Mohamed Melehi at work. (Photo by H. Chergui, 2017)

The Alserkal Arts Foundation exhibition ‘New Waves: Mohamed Melehi and the Casablanca Art School Archives’ which opened in Alserkal Avenue last month, retraces the pioneering Moroccan artist’s career chronologically, as well as telling the story of the radical Casablanca Art School.

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Curated by Morad Montazami, the show which began at the OMA-designed Concrete on September 19 when the art season began in the UAE, runs until November 21, 2020 (Saturday).

Sleeping Manhattan, 1962, Acrylic on canvas. (Private collection)

Sleeping Manhattan, 1962, Acrylic on canvas. (Private collection)



Mohamed Melehi was born in 1936 in Asilah, Morocco, and studied art in his home country, and then in Madrid, Rome, Paris, and finally New York during the late 50s and 60s, before returning to Morocco in 1964.

About his experience in New York, the artist says: “It was here I became more aware of my identity as a Moroccan…”

During the 60s and 70s, one can see the unfurling of his emblematic motif, the wave. Melehi gains strength in concept, execution and in mastery of color and his patterns become bolder, dynamic and sculptoral.

Untitled, 1970-1971, cellulose paint on wood. Private collection

Untitled, 1970-1971, cellulose paint on wood. Private collection



He then rediscovers Moroccan popular art and emphasizes its importance in breaking away from colonial European 19th Century art traditions to create a revitalized contemporary Moroccan aesthetics in the 1960s.

New Waves1_Photography by Angelo Jandri_Courtesy Alserkal

New Waves1_Photography by Angelo Jandri_Courtesy Alserkal

The exhibition also reveals Melehi’s key role in the development of art pedagogy and experimental practices in Morocco, as well as his significant work in graphic design and mural painting, which has contributed heavily in shaping the aesthetics of significant artistic networks and political causes throughout the Maghreb and the Pan-Arab alliances.

Melehi is widely regarded as a major figure of post-colonial Moroccan art and of transnational modernism and the ‘New Waves’ exhibition is a treat for art connoisseurs and students.

It is designed as an immersive show. combining previously unseen works and archives, Melehi is presented as a painter, photographer, muralist, graphic and urban designer, art teacher, and cultural activist.

This retrospective exhibition brings the pioneering artist’s multi-faceted career to life, giving UAE audiences a unique insight into a practice that feels critical and relevant for contemporary concerns in this region.

This expanded research allows new insight into the experimental spirit of the Casablanca Art School which he joined in 1964 and along with his associates challenged convention, and collaborated to produce radical forms of pedagogy and exhibition-making, bringing the artist out from the studio into the streets and public squares of Morocco.

This expanded research allows new insight into the experimental spirit of the Casablanca Art School as they challenged convention, and collaborated to produce radical forms of pedagogy and exhibition-making, bringing the artist out from the studio into the streets and public squares of Morocco.

The installation view of the exhibition. (Photo by Mustafa Aboubacker  Courtesy Alserkal Avenue)

The installation view of the exhibition. (Photo by Mustafa Aboubacker Courtesy Alserkal Avenue)



It also explores Melehi’s in-depth engagement with Afro-Berber art and craft through the collection of Bert Flint, from which he drew artistic inspiration.

Abdelmonem Bin Eisa Alserkal, Founder of Alserkal and of Alserkal Arts Foundation, says: “New Waves is an expression of an ‘invisible history’ that has shaped the MEASA region both intellectually and aesthetically. This presentation to international audiences in Dubai furthers our commitment as a Foundation, and as a family, to keep such artistic legacies alive.”

The Dubai presentation of New Waves in Concrete includes a recently archived collection of Melehi’s documentary photography—over 30 years of artistic travel and visual activism journeys—as well as highlights from the golden age of the Asilah festival. The Festival, co-founded by Melehi in 1978, gathered avant-garde artists from Africa, Asia, and Arab countries.

In the spirit of Melehi’s impulse to free visual art from the gallery and bring painting into the public realm, the exhibition extends into Alserkal Avenue. Inspired by the Asilah Festival, world-renowned artist eL Seed invited the public to paint a mural with him in Alserkal Avenue, where his studio is based, that pays tribute to Melehi’s work.

World-renowned artist eL Seed painting a mural  in Alserkal Avenue -- where his studio is based -- that pays tribute to Melehi’s work. (Photo by Angelo Jandri, courtesy Alserkal Avenue)

World-renowned artist eL Seed painting a mural in Alserkal Avenue -- where his studio is based -- that pays tribute to Melehi’s work. (Photo by Angelo Jandri, courtesy Alserkal Avenue)


The artwork is a quote from Mohamed Melehi that reads: “Any type of art you see, if you used it as a way of communication, a way of awakening attitudes, it could help broaden minds.”

In Alserkal Avenue’s The Yard, an adapted re-creation of a mural from the first Asilah Moussem Festival of the Arts in 1978 was painted by students from Zayed University, in collaboration with Jotun paints.

A full ‘catalogue’ and guide are available virtually, allowing visitors to explore the exhibition through texts, videos, and audio, and engage in its accompanying public program.

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Last Update: Monday, 26 October 2020 KSA 22:42 - GMT 19:42
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