Young Moroccan artists: Militants of meaning
Kenza Sefrioui - 13/08/2008
More and more young Moroccan women are asserting their talents in the artistic field. Although song and music are traditionally the domains that represent them and from which they draw their models, today they also invest on other modes of expression
However, being an artist in Morocco isn’t so easy, due to the lack of real cultural circuits, prejudice, an assured economic instability, and so on. Nevertheless these women have not given up their will to assert themselves in the field of symbolic power.
Jamila El Haouni, actress: Emotion at the service of lucidity
“Zid ,Jamila!” The orders of Jaouad Essounanithe director, can’t be disputed. Though short of breath, Jamila El Haouni, resumes her work in staging hysterics. She interprets the role of a young woman who becomes a prostitute after living an extra-marital affair which forced her to abort. She screams, rolls around the floor of the rehearsal hall, goes on for another ten minutes then collapses, exhausted, her legs on top of her head, all bruised up. D’Hommages staged by the new company Dabateatr, is an extraordinarily modern play, which revisits the strong symbols of Morocco’s collective memory.
She plays with her troupe as well as with the actors that have come from Lebanon, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. This is a new role, which rests on the actors’ bodies more than on their capacity to recite the text. “I don’t like easy roles, like playing your own character, I don’t get a kick out of that, confesses Jamila. The scenario has to hit me, the character has to talk to me, touch me, make me think”.
Aged 29, this young comedian born in Marrakech has already acquired a rich artistic experience. It all started thanks to her high school professor in French, Mohamed Machti, who wrote and taught theatre: “He said to me: take the exam, you can make it!” In 1999, she therefore entered the Superior Institute of Drama and Cultural Animation (ISADAC) in Rabat. She recalls the interpretation and singing courses, the work on her voice, her body, on lighting, the hours spent in the library and the video library. “I was lazy in drawing and scenography. I liked practical training much more: exercises, novel adaptations etc.”
After two years of common training, she specialises in interpretation. The ISADAC has also lead to solid friendships which have followed on into her artistic work. After her graduation in 2003, one role followed the other: Maître Puntila et son valet Matti, staged for television by Chafik Shimi, then the series Woujaâ trab, inspired by Zola’s Earth. There she met her husband Amine Ennaji. Then the TV series Iâlan filjournal (An Ad on the Newspaper) by Idriss El Idrissi, Miyah souda (Black Waters) by Abdeslam Glaâi, Bila houdoud (Out of Bounds) by Nassim Abbassi, and other shorts and features films. But her favourite troupe is Dabateatr, for its “respectful and artistic” work. With them she played Chamâa, an adaptation of Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfmann, in darija – the Moroccan dialect - transposed in a Moroccan context. This was an intimist role based on the topic of justice and vengeance.
“I enjoy my work, I like the freedom of it”, she confesses, though she regrets she doesn’t see her husband so often, who is also an actor. With a tender smile, she remembers that her family, who was worried about her future, had encouraged her tepidly. “Now, they’re proud to see me on television!” To recharge her batteries, they’re the ones she goes to: “My eight older brothers and sisters are civil workers, but all of them have an artist’s soul. My sister wanted to follow a theatre course at university, but at the time the workshop had a bad reputation”.
She says she didn’t need to fight for her choice: “Before, only very strong and independent women who revolted against their families became actresses. My generation had it a lot easier. My family is open, though they wouldn’t want me to play some roles, naked roles for example. I personally wouldn’t mind, if the role was interesting”. Her motivations? “I never dreamt of being a star. I like being on stage and having fun. I took this choice without realising what it entailed, then it became normal”. The demands and harshness of this job don’t scare her. She fully accepts her director’s idea that only by pushing actors to the limits of their physical resistance can they spontaneously produce the right gesture out of the memory of their body. Though she recites in French and English, she believes she can communicate most of her emotion in darija. She adds, “by denouncing social hypocrisy, the theatre is a window that can tell everything that can’t be said on television, radio or in education”. And it’s through emotion that she conveys her message and work for a more equitable Morocco.
Bouchra Ouizguen, dancer: “A dance for existence, a dance of resistance”
Contemporary dance? To Bouchra Ouizguen it’s “a quest, an infinite existential search. I can’t define it yet, as that would mean framing it…I’m still looking”. The experience of this 28 year old woman, born in 1980 in Ouarzazate, does in fact represent a long quest made of passion and uncertainties. Dancing has always been her goal, “since I was a child, in weddings and parties”. But if dancing for fun is socially admitted, it is not so when you choose to make it a profession: “Apart from a few exceptions, I was keenly discouraged by my entourage. But rules are made to be broken!” she recalls by observing that Morocco isn’t the only place where “working as an artist is not encouraged. It’s a difficult and marginalised choice of life”.
Bouchra’s challenge was even more daring as “contemporary dance is a new and young art in Morocco”. Nothing around her aroused her interest for this art: “I only knew of classical dance courses, addressed, it must be said, to the Moroccan bourgeoisie – a world that didn’t interest me. I also knew the traditional Berber dances, the chikhates…who are also inscribed in my body without the need to learn them, because they’re part of my culture”. Bouchra was self-taught until the age of 18. A professional oriental dancer at 17, the only Moroccan model she had was her philosophy teacher who opened her eyes on the writers, philosophers and poets of the Arab world. But, she underlines: “We had no model for dancers or Moroccan choreographers”.
In 1998 she discovered contemporary dance, thanks to the courses organised during the artists roadshow at the French Institute of Marrakech. “My 3rd revolutionised my life, so much that I stopped speaking for a week. It was with Bernardo Montet. There were about thirty of us, of which 95% were boys, and this is very rare in dance. My 4th course only confirmed the fact that I wanted to follow this career, it was with Mathilde Monnier”. Bouchra then obtained two scholarships, the first one to follow a professional training course in the Choreographic Centre of Montpellier, the second for a residence in the National Centre of Dance in Paris, with choreographer Boris Charmatz.
Upon her return to Morocco, she had to face the harsh reality: “Being a dancer choreographer in Morocco, is equal to being crazy or a B… or both. I’m neither one nor the other. It’s no better for men: the physical sphere, and especially choreographic art, is forcibly questionable and disturbing at first. This is perhaps the idea of my closer entourage, but certainly doesn’t apply to society, if you consider the full houses we get for contemporary dance”. Far from being discouraged, she established a company in 2001, Anania, with Taoufiq Izeddiou and Said Aït El Moumen. A challenge: “When all the dancers were fleeing Morocco for lack of opportunities, training or grants…we grouped together and created our own structures”. There’s no studio? The company works in an apartment. It organises trainings, creation residences, and even a festival, “On marche”, now at its 4th edition and which has obtained the support of the Ministry of Culture two years ago, allowing Moroccan choreographers to give visibility to their work and to obtain some financial and assistance programmes.
For the last two years Bouchra has been able to live off of her art, thanks to the roadshows abroad and because she also dances for a French company. But, she reminds, “this was not always the case. I had to make some radical choices: no promotions, no performances for years, no courses in slimming gyms (though it’s the only opportunity to earn money with dancing in Morocco) and had to live out of almost nothing.” Dancing “is an obsession” which fills your life completely and “it requires sacrifices. It’s no luxury life, and you can’t get rich out of it. We sell what can’t be hung at home, something impalpable, imagination, images, poetry, questions, sensations…” Marketing this art is out of the question as is “remaining in a creative autism and only thinking of my career”. To her dancing is “a thought in movement to be shared or disapproved of wherever my body and my soul go”. When I ask her if she considers herself a pioneer, she’s almost surprised: “I don’t know. If by this you mean that I’m the first in Morocco who lives out of it, then yes. If it’s in terms of working quality, I’m not the one who can judge that”. What are her greatest satisfactions? “Having passed on the desire to dance to other young people in Marrakech, who today are making it their profession”.
However, it’s still a long road: “I’m not satisfied yet, I feel I haven’t done anything yet. There’s so much to do in Morocco, art is an abandoned building site here… Grants can sometimes help to repaint the facades, but the foundations aren’t solid. I hope things will change, I feel optimistic and I‘m doing what I have to do”. Anania fights against the lack of funds and had to interrupt its training programme to resume it at a “smaller scale”. Bouchra is a militant of her art. She recounts that as of today the only support for dance comes from the French Institute and the Cultural Action and Cooperation Service of the French Embassy. She points out the problems of all choreographer artists: “no professional training is available in Morocco, no permanent sites in which to dance, though that’s essential, and not for short spans of time but constantly, in order to reach real projects that can last through time, no regular support to creation and the diffusion of contemporary choreography”…Convinced that “art allows for the progress of society, helps to build character and thought”, she asks herself: “does every Moroccan have equal chances to access art at his birth? What are we leaving to the youngsters that will follow us, in five or ten years? If being an artist in Morocco means being “a grain of sand in the desert” she keeps repeating that “there is a demand for it, by youngsters, artists, publics and projects are also there”. As member of an association of choreographers, Anania, “I’m on a sand dune, on which I can climb to have a viewpoint that goes further than my own. In this case the future of dance. That of a group of people in movement which other people can join”.
Asmae Khamlichi, poetess
Voices in process
«Je hais les revers
tes rêves sont bien
te trouent le regard.
C’est très bien,
mes aurores sont striées
de sang et d’aspirine et les années s’allument
consommées en faux
rendez-vous, poisseuses de leur
pervenche beauté et réseau des
qu’on retrouve en marchant
Sur le dos aux valses suspectes
D’un serpent à sonnette
Trois heures dans les placards
Mauves des amours absurdes».
The first thing Asmae Khamlichi wrote, still a teenager, was a poem. This young girl barely aged 20, born in Rabat in 1989, has won the first 2M prize in 2006 for literary creation, in the category poetry in French. This was the first time she submitted a text for a literary contest, and it happened on her graduation year, where she got a summa cum laude. Last year, she was given an honourable mention for the French Free Poetry prize, addressed to high school graduates. Recently, she participated to a novel contest: “I used to read a lot when I was a child, she confesses. Reading lead to writing when I became a teenager.” Her favourites: Alessandro Baricco, Christian Bobin… “I don’t like square prose, that never gives you a chance to discover and interpret by yourself”. Her mother, a professor of Islamic education, made her discover Driss Chraïbi, and Asmae still remembers La Civilisation, ma mère ! (Civilisation, my mother!). As she remembers her shock at reading Lolita by Nabokov. She also read all of Naguib Mahfouz, upon the strict invitation of her father, an ancient professor of literary critic at the Normal Superior School and a novelist in Arabic.
As for her style of writing, she certainly doesn’t want to be compared with her father: “he chose a language, and I chose another one, he chose a genre, and I chose another one”. She looks for freedom through her poetry. Perhaps it’s a way to break free from the bourgeois and conformist surrounding she lived in when she attended her private Moroccan high school… “I have a sentimental relationship with poetry, whereas prose has a more reflective side to it”, she says while telling of the pleasure of seeking “rhythm and musicality”. She prefers “free poetry. Why did she choose to write in French? “Until I was ten, I used to speak French as well as Arabic. At high school I was deeply influenced by my French teacher. I developed a visceral relation with the French language. I like discovering its most marginal and most interesting aspects. It’s also because foreign authors are translated more into French than into Arabic”. Furthermore, she adds “I could never write in Arabic”.
At the 2M prize for young literary creation she presented a part of her first collection, La Tentation. She wrote this text at 17. “It’s old. I feel some tenderness for those writings”. This experience allowed her to meet some noted writers, literature professionals, and especially the other young poet laureates. This meeting was even the more important considering that few young people take writers as models. “It encouraged me to write and gave me a regained energy. Because writing, is a permanent doubt”.
On her last high school year she wrote her second collection of poems, La Disparition. “It’s a journey in life. On that year I opened myself more abruptly to the world, my texts became cruder. Some words, that I would never have used before, came out. I became more mature”.
Today she’s studying economy in Rennes, and she appreciates the opening that her studies offer her. “It’s balanced. I like maths, I adore philosophy and languages”. Later on she wishes to work in the cultural and artistic sphere. We hope that this voice in poetry will keep rising in the years…