Museum Profile: MACAAL
Established in 2016, but open to the public in 2018, The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (MACAAL), Marrakech, Morocco, is an independent, non-profit contemporary art museum that nurtures an understanding of contemporary art from Africa through collecting and exhibiting established and emerging artists, highlighting the creative energy and cultural diversity found across the continent. In addition to the permanent collection, exhibitions focus on art which engages in a dialogue with the continent, including African and international artists. In this interview with Omenka, MACAAL president, Othman Lazraq and artistic director, Meriem Berrada, discuss the museum, plans for the future and upcoming exhibition.
How did the idea for The Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maden (MACAAL) come about and why Marrakech? (Othman)
It is a project my father had been thinking about for a long time. In my family, we collect not only for pleasure but also so that one day we can share this collection with as many people as possible. We strive for art to be more widely enjoyed by the people of Morocco. Art is not meant to be hidden, it should be exhibited.
MACAAL is also intended to anchor Morocco in the artistic production of its continent, to favour interactions within the artistic production of the regions of North, South, East and West Africa, and to contribute to the structuration of cultural life – in particular, the visual arts – by providing an international visibility platform from Africa.
As for the location, Marrakech is very interesting because it is the cultural and artistic capital of Morocco as well as being a gateway between Europe and Africa. But above all, it is the birthplace of our family collection.
What specific experiences in your successful career have prepared you for the role of artistic director? (Meriem)
I would say it is more a set of experiences, a path that prepared me and continues to prepare me for the very demanding role of artistic director.
Conceiving a Museum programming is not only booking exhibitions or suggesting a cultural program, but really considering the value for visitors in a very particular territory, writing the narrative and building sense in every action we lead.
If I must highpoint one of these experiences, I would talk about Generation Flash. Flash was an exceptional mobilization of the Moroccan cultural scene to ensure the durability of an artists’ residency in El Jadida (Morocco) created by Younes Baba-Ali and its cultural association Limiditi- temporary art projects.
After my encounter with Younes, and learning about the artistic context and its issues, I immediately decided to get involved in his cause. We managed to convince in a very short time 38 artists, across all generations and mediums, to mobilize in donating their works which we presented in an expo-sale that was a great success on all dimensions.
This experience was of great profit for me. In fact, gaining the trust of artists has released mutual empathy allowing me to strengthen both my sensitivity and my understanding of the ecosystem.
But as I said at the beginning, other experiences such as designing and building La Chambre Claire with Othman, the Passerelles program (trans. Bridges) which raises awareness about visual arts in underprivileged areas or my involvement as a visual arts expert for the Roberto Cimetta Fund have prepared me and continue to prepare me for my mission as artistic director.
What challenges have you faced since opening the museum in Africa, particularly in Morocco? (Othman)
Our main concerns and the more important missions of the Museum are to democratize art and make it become accessible to all.
As I always say, our mission is to disseminate, educate, and popularize art in Morocco and within the continent, namely among younger audiences. We believe that culture is a shared asset that can be an outstanding lever for development.
Those are our everyday challenges, especially in a country where art is still considered as restricted to elites.
Our commitment to local people is essential to us. We strive to make the museum accessible to all through affordable prices, “pay as you wish weekends”, free shuttles for scholar and associative groups, activities organised for local associations as well as free performances, talks, screenings and concerts both inside and outside the Museum.
Through these regular initiatives, we aim to build a true and perennial community.
North Africa and Sub- Saharan Africa are often vastly different regions on a cultural and historical level. How will MACAAL aim to represent the entirety of the African continent? (Meriem)
I would say not only North African and Sub Saharan Africa are really different but African is truly disparate from East to West, Center to South and even in the North itself and what we call the Maghreb. We can see significant differences, where even the modern history has set a kind of whole.
Presenting African Contemporary creation doesn’t have to be exhaustive in every exhibition or project but it is a long run process. First, we have the remove the mystique surrounding Africa as a whole. For instance, as inaugural exhibition we presented Africa Is No Island. It was a kind of statement to deconstruct the idea of Africa as a frozen bloc, showing to what extent it is a connected territory full of opportunities, while overcoming borders and reporting different perspectives on, around and from the African continent.
How will the contemporary art interact alongside works from you and your father, Alami Lazraq’s? (Othman)
First of all, my artworks and my family’s are an integral part of the MACAAL collection; they are the collection, one collection at a time one and polymorphic. We do not want it to be frozen, but fully alive. That’s why we make sure it is constantly growing and enriching.
Our works are part of each of the exhibitions we organize, constantly interacting with external works, loaned or commissioned for the occasion.
It is also a source of inspiration for artists who come to produce at MACAAL.
Finally, thanks to regular loans, it is present in all four corners of the world. It’s an avid traveler!
Please tell us more about how the space will operate as a multidisciplinary museum, and why you think these types of spaces are important in the 21st century? (Othman)
Contemporary art is so polymorphous, mixing so many practices that are evolving at an increasing speed, that it is now necessary to have spaces that can accommodate all kinds of works.
This is why the museum’s spaces are modular. Each new exhibition has its own scenography, designed according to the works, for the works.
As a multidisciplinary museum, we use all the space we have: the garden for special events, workshops, concerts, performances which can also be inside; the MACAAL Shop dedicated to creators and designers; the MACAAL Residence for special artistic projects. We have a monumental sculpture park too!
From February 26 to September 22, MACAAL will present Material Insanity. Tell us more about this exhibition and what you hope to achieve with it? (Meriem)
By gathering more than 30 artists from the continent and its diaspora, Material Insanity reveals how contemporary African art reimagines and explores objects’ biographies to highlight the deeper, social, political, or economic contexts at play. The exhibition investigates the way in which artists allow a myriad of materials to visualize the various complexities embedded within their own landscapes while breaking down the dichotomy between object and subject.
Bypassing entrenched stereotypes of waste transmutation, each of the artists forges new meanings for old or found materials by using them to address issues that are crucial to local histories and are representative of the way in which artists from various cultures within and outside of Africa are asserting their heritage into works that also call into question contemporary and globally relevant issues. Through this exhibition, we really want visitors to question about the meaning and the process and not only the result. In terms of scenography, there won’t be any specific route but plentiful ways to circulate in the space, to feel the works and their numerous viewing angles and to question the material they are made from.
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