Artist Omar Lhamzi donned a bright yellow waistcoat and paint-splattered shoes, selected a paintbrush and got down to work on his latest canvas, the wall of a house in Rabat, the seaside capital of Morocco.
Lhamzi is part of a new generation of artists whose murals are changing the face of Moroccan cities.
A stroll through the avenues and alleys of Rabat reveals an array of freshly painted works, in which larger-than-life fantastic creatures coexist with realistic portraits and scenes from everyday life.
Their creators flocked from across the kingdom of North Africa and beyond to Rabat last week for Jidar – Arabic for “wall” – a festival dedicated to street art.
Lhamzi used the side of a house in the popular Yaacoub Al Mansour neighborhood for his latest work, a six-eared, green-and-pink-skinned man floating in the dark, with clouds echoing the ” Starry Night “by Vincent van Gogh.
The 25-year-old young man, who is called Bo3bo3, made his first murals four years ago in the seaside town of Agadir.
But he didn’t expect this to become his main field when he graduated in 2018 from the prestigious National School of Fine Arts in the northern city of Tetouan.
“I never imagined that my work would be visible in the public space,” he said.
Today, however, it covers the walls in bright colors, creating a surreal universe full of references to skating and video games, breaking the monotony of the cityscape.
– Growing interest –
In another district of the capital, Imane Droby, perched on a stool in front of a school wall, draws a realistic portrait of a woman embroidering.
The 36-year-old woman from Casablanca says she too fell into the mural “somewhat by accident”.
âI got a taste for it. It’s great to turn a white wall into a work of art,â she said.
She added that street art “is difficult for everyone but even harder for women. You’ve put in double the effort to make your mark.”
It is an art form that has flourished since the early 2000s in Morocco’s commercial capital, Casablanca.
A decade later, in 2013, the Sbagha Bagha festival sparked new public interest in murals.
“At the beginning it was really complicated, because unlike graffiti or stencils, painting murals requires organization”, explains Salah Malouli, artistic director of Sbagha Bagha and Jidar.
âAt the time, no one felt comfortable working in public. There was a lot of apprehension.
But today residents and institutions are showing more interest in murals, said Malouli, and in recent years, works of art have adorned the walls not only in big cities like the tourist hub of Marrakech. , but also in more remote areas.
– Erased portraits –
Works of art are not always valued by owners or authorities.
The municipality of the northern port city of Tangier sparked outrage over the summer by starting to erase a tribute to Franco-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui, who was killed in a 2016 jihadist attack in Burkina Faso. . The authorities subsequently overturned the decision.
Malouli said works of art are most vulnerable in Casablanca, where aerial displays often cover the walls.
âThe public space is invaded by informal advertising, which complicates our work,â he said.
Two works by Italian street artist Millo have been deleted in recent years.
However, for the artists involved in Jidar, there is no question of giving up.
âThis is the price to pay for working in the public space – you have to accept what is going on, both good and bad,â said Malouli.
Despite the challenges, Lhamzi sees street art as a way to âlearn to talk and listen to peopleâ.
And every year the scene gets bigger, with new artists contributing to a collective wall – just like Lhamzi and Droby started out.
For the visual artist Yassine Balbzioui who directed the wall this year, art has wings.
In the street, “anything is possible”, he declared.
Â© 2021 AFP