The first ever Essaouira Festival of Amazigh culture got under way today with the launch of two exhibitions, musical entertainment and a calligraphy workshop. Further events take place over the next days. The Festival coincides with the Berber New Year and closes on Monday evening (21 January) with an open air concert on Place Moulay Hassan. A full programme is available here. The word amazigh is the singular of imazighen, which means ‘free men’ and is a term used collectively to describe the Berber indigenous peoples of North Africa and the Sahara. These include the Berbers of Morocco, the Kabyle of Algeria and the Touareg of the Sahara. Moroccan constitutional reforms delivered in 2011 following the Arab Spring, have seen Berber become an official language. It is taught in schools (even in non-Berber regions) and is increasingly visible, eg on plaques and signs outside government buildings.
Until 2 February, the beautiful setting of the Bastion Bab Marrakech hosts an exhibition of different Amazigh artists. I attended the opening and was at once struck both by the diversity of expression, media and form of the works and the incredible colours used by the artists. The latter is no surprise: I recognised the range of colours used from the beautiful handicrafts of Berber regions, which include colourful carpets, fabrics, scarves and ceremonial objects such as wedding blankets and belts.
I met Moulid Nidouissadan, a young calligrapher and poet from Taliouine in Taroudant Province. The town (of around 5,000 inhabitants) is famous for saffron and Moulid often uses saffron as a pigment in his Tifinagh (Berber script) calligraphy, which depicts proverbs and poetry from Arabic, Amazigh, European and Chinese cultures. I often admire Arabic calligraphy paintings, but Berber script as calligraphy was interesting and attractive.
I was also drawn to the paintings (on reclaimed wood) of Ahmed Adallouch. His portraits of Berber women reminded me of Alphons Mucha’s art nouveau posters, which I love. Ahmed is based in Essaouira and his work can be seen at Empreinte gallery in the medina.
A second exhibition opened at Dar Souiri tonight, featuring the work of Titouan Lamazou. The exhibition marks the publication of “Onze Lunes du Maroc” (11 moons of Morocco – the book was compiled between one Ramadan and the next in the Islamic lunar calendar) by Lamazou and photographer Karin Huet. The exhibition features sketches, drawings and photographs of daily life in Berber villages of the High Atlas which are only accessible in 8 months of the year and snowed in for four. One such village is Ait Bouguemez and I really enjoyed Lamazou’s studies of the local architecture and the laundry routines of the women. This exhibition also runs until 2 February 2013.
The Festival of Amazigh Culture is co-produced by the Alliance Franco-Marocaine d’Essaouira and the Délégation Provinciale de la Ministère de la Culture. All activities during the festival are free and open to all.