Morocco is a photogenic country, but as fascinating a subject as its scenery and souks are its people. The exhibition, ‘VISAGES : Maroc Medina’, which runs in the Bastion Bab Marrakech, Essaouira until 21 December is a collection of portraits of people living and working in the Marrakech medina. The photos were taken by students of the Norwegian School of Photography as part of their studies. Many show people at work, practising ancient and modern crafts (my favourites included the leather workers, the welder, the chicken seller and the barber). Some show the vibrancy of Moroccan culture, other show subjects who are tired, joking or world weary.
The human subject in Morocco is fascinating, yet it is one I personally find very difficult to photograph. During a recent visit to La Maison de la Photographie in Marrakech, the founder explained to us that photographing a subject (particularly in Colonial Africa) can be a relationship of dominant and dominated, ie the powerful photographer and his reluctant or submissive subject. This theory seems a little extreme in modern times, but perhaps it plays some role in my awkwardness in building a relationship with a subject which today often becomes a financial one.
It is only in part due to my own ineptitude as a photographer of people that I appreciated the exhibition. Mainly it was because it is a collection of stunning and moving photographs by young photography students that capture everyday life in the medina. Whether posed or not, each one tells a story. The exhibition is free and I really recommend a visit, not least because the Bastion makes such a beautiful gallery.
Alongside these photos are exhibited a smaller collection shot by a group of 4 local amateur photographers tutored by experts from the Norwegian School of Photography. Rather than viewing Moroccan culture from the outside (as European photographers would), they were able to capture the essence of their own culture from within. As a result, the photographs on display often capture more intimate moments than outsiders can access, such as the boy on the day of his circumcision or the lone capoerista on the beach.
The cultural exchange between Norway and Essaouira also commemorates the centenary of the birth of Thorbjorn Egner, celebrated Norwegian playwright, songwriter and illustrator. Alongside the photographic exhibits is a collection of his artwork for children’s books. Egner visited Essaouira in the 1940s and based his book ‘When the robbers came to Cardamom Town’, one of the most important Norwegian children’s books, on the city.
Nordic Black Theatre has developed an adaptation of the play as ‘Le Lion et les brigants de cardamomme ville’ with actors from Norway and Morocco. It is performed in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and Norwegian. I was fortunate to attend the premiere on 21 November. Although I don’t understand enough Darija or Norwegian to follow the script, the actors performed with such energy against the stunning open air backdrop of the Bastion Bab Marrakech that it didn’t seem to matter. My companion and I really enjoyed the ‘Moroccan touch’ of the Darija dialect and the chtah grand finale (dancing to the beat of the darbouka where each dancer does their party piece in turn). The musical is being shown at 6pm on 22, 23 and 24 November. It’s free, relatively short and certainly entertaining, even if you can’t follow the language.
More information about the exhibition and play on the Norwegian Embassy website (in French).