Essaouira naive art is known world-wide. The colourful style is reminiscent of aboriginal and outsider art from other cultures in Africa and on other continents. The Swiri artists are self-taught and many are principally employed in agriculture and fishing.
As I wrote in the Fodor’s Guide to Morocco, “The work of the naïve Souiri artists is frequently exhibited locally, and you can track down artists such as Abdelaziz Baki, Ali Maimoune, and Asmah Ennaji at their workshops in the joutiya, Essaouira’s flea market in the industrial quarter to the north of the medina. Here, their colorful work is displayed in two and three dimensions, often incorporating found objects or up-cycled items from the nearby market.”
This summer, Swiris and visitors will have a unique opportunity to see two exhibitions by local artist, Ben Ali (Abdelghani Didouh). The exhibitions are being held to raise funds for Essaouira-based charity Project 91, to establish a fund for the widows of fishermen lost at sea. Continue reading
Concerned about the natural environment in Essaouira and determined to make our small city attractive for residents and visitors, a number of individuals, associations and companies have come together under the slogan:
Baraka men zbel! Ça suffit des déchets! Stop the litter!
As a first activity, with a view to many more, a community rubbish collection was held on Sunday 23 November with local associations, residents and young people in the Skala neighbourhood of Essaouira.
The event was organised by Association Argania in collaboration with the company Écotourisme et Randonnées. As well as a number of local residents and expatriates, several youth associations attended with their members and beneficiaries, including Association Bayti, Association Douar Laraiche, the Basketball Club CAS, Association Swira (from Belgium), Association for the Integration of Disadvantaged Youth in Essaouira (AIeDE) and Peace Corps. In total, around 80 people attended – around half adults (including several youth leaders) and half children and youth.
Many visitors to Essaouira come via Marrakech to the coast (although this will change as more and more airlines fly directly to Essaouira). On arrival, they are often pleased to find that the medina is smaller and less overwhelming than that of Marrakech, and the shopkeepers and stall holders tend to drive a slightly easier bargain than their big city counterparts.
However, many of the shops sell the same kinds of souvenirs you can find all over the country. What if you want items that are distinctly local? Do not despair! Essaouira has a reputation as an artsy town and there are many local and expat artisans and artists offering unique gifts for you to take home. Here are some of the Best of Essaouira in terms of souvenirs.
Please see this page on the maroc-o-phile website for suggestions of local charities you can support.
image (c): High Atlas Foundation
Tourism has made a significant contribution to an increase in the Moroccan standard of living, particularly in the cities. However, Essaouira is a particular case. Essaouira is the only city in the Province and it is only the size of a large UK market town (pop. ca. 70,000). The rest of the Province – a population in total of around half a million – is rural, eking out an existence through farming. The city simply does not have the industry or infrastructure to support such a large and under-developed hinterland, but this does not stop poorly-educated, low-skilled workers flooding in with the hope of improving their lives in Essaouira’s main economic sector: tourism.
Tourists to Essaouira don’t often see the crippling poverty behind the smiling welcome but it exists and the kids often come off worst. The Bayti charity helps them and their families get on the right track, providing educational and psychological support, activities to promote social integration and a hot meal for around 100 kids, as well as counselling and legal help for parents.
- the ‘new’ Jewish cemetery in Essaouira
Essaouira-Mogador occupies a unique place in the history of Morocco. This is largely based on the exceptional unity of social, philosophical and cultural relations between communities of diverse religious faiths. The High Atlas Foundation and its many local partners have initiated a preservation and maintenance program for the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish cemeteries in Essaouira, which stand as present-day reminders of the peaceful and prosperous coexistence of the past.
Essaouira has two Jewish cemeteries: the ‘old’ and the ‘new’. The photograph (left) shows Malika, the caretaker of both, in the new cemetery. I was very privileged to visit both cemeteries with Asher Knafo, who is a poet, writer, and researcher of the history of Jewish Mogador. Several members of his family are buried in the new cemetery. An article I wrote about my day with Asher was published by Scoop in New Zealand. Read it here.
Abdellah Assemer and his photos
Fairmail comes to Morocco! FairMail is a company producing fair trade greeting cards made from photos taken by underprivileged teenagers in Peru and India. Founding couple, Peter den Hond and Janneke Smeulders have now started a project in Essaouira, Morocco.
I met Janneke at the exhibition, ‘Mon Essaouira’ (My Essaouira) at Dar Souiri which runs until today (1 December). She explained a little to me about their work in Essaouira.