The Reign of Contemporary Art in Casablanca

As Air Canada begins to offer non-stop service to Morocco, we take a look at the city’s thriving art scene.

Casablanca’s growing contemporary art scene is a reflection of the cultural curiosity of its monarch, King Mohammed VI, an enthusiastic collector. His rise to the throne in 1999 ushered in a new era for art in the city, and in the last decade his own behaviour has inspired a growing group of patrons.

L’Atelier 21

“Our art scene used to be dominated by historical and orientalist painting,” says Nadia Amor, managing director of gallery L’Atelier 21. Today, that tradition is rivalled by Moroccan artists working with much more diverse materials, who are concerned with issues such as modern life and emigration. “A great number of our artists now live in Europe,” she says, “so the gaze of the other, as well as being a part of two disparate cultures, lies at the heart of most of the work.”

L’Atelier 21 is the best place to find out what’s new in Casablanca’s flourishing scene. Ducking into the busy spot on Rue Abou Mahassine Arrouyani, you’ll find a modern space that not only showcases emerging and established artists (like Zakaria Ramhani, whose iconic portraits, on close inspection, turn out to be composed of brushstroke-like Arabic script), but also strives to grow a burgeoning network of collectors and patrons. “Today we are selling contemporary art. This would have seemed impossible when we opened eight years ago.”

Femme arabe d'après Renoir

Zakaria Ramhani, “Femme arabe d'après Renoir,” oil on canvas (122 x 151 cm), 2012, courtesy of gallery L'Atelier 21, Casablanca, Morocco

Not 10 minutes away from L’Atelier 21 is Galerie Shart, a new art space run by passionate collector turned gallerist Hassan Sefrioui. Sefrioui opened his gallery in 2006 to encourage the public to follow the careers of his favourite artists. The space also provides a home to itinerant organization CulturesInterface, which regularly travels across Africa, Europe and the Americas to showcase North African and Mediterranean art. And Fatma Jellal Gallery grants residencies to local artists who create socially conscious work. Together, they have all capitalized on the King’s influence and have used it to grow and nurture a strong community of artists and their supporters.

“We see that we were right to believe that collectors are less traditional in their tastes than previously thought,” says Amor. “We now have a loyal audience for contemporary art. This enables us to take more risks in the production of works by contemporary artists.”