It took a long time before the Museum Mohammed VI for Modern and Contemporary Art in Rabat finally opened its doors on 7 October 2014. Originally more daring construction plans that would have corresponded better with the concept of such am art institution were scrapped and replaced with a more traditional architecture. Personnel shifts because of disagreements about the realization of exhibition conceptions also delayed the opening. One of the last decision-makers, the curator responsible for the conception of the first exhibition, Mohamed Rachdi, left the team shortly before the opening. But he is precisely the one to thank that the museum, which has turned out to be conventional, still offers a few positive substantive surprises. For example, under his aegis it was possible to transform the originally planned underground parking garage into an adequate space for contemporary art that wouldn’t have found its place in the museum’s elegant halls. The art critic Farid Zahi speaks of a liberation from the vision of Lyautey, according to whom handicrafts are the basic art of Morocco. Viewed from the outside, the museum displays no will to such a liberation, but inside a certain departure for new horizons is palpable.
How can the museum innovatively enrich Morocco’s cultural landscape and take part in the democratization of art? What challenges must such an institution take up? What projects are planned for the future? In the following interview, Hind El Ayoubi, Conservator at the MMVI, provides some glimpses of the planned strategies.
Elisabeth Piskernik: The Museum Mohammed VI is Morocco’s first museum devoted solely to modern and contemporary art. What is the basic idea behind this?
Hind El Ayoubi: This project was brought to life at the initiative of His Royal Highness Mohammed VI, and it mirrors the cultural policy he strives for. Its goal is the development of cultural initiatives in Morocco, which he wants to equip with the necessary infrastructure on a high level. The construction of the MMVI is a historical act combining several innovations: this is not only the first national museum for modern and contemporary art in Morocco; it is also the country’s first museum built since independence as a museum and meeting international norms. Its goal is clear: it aims to offer the framework conditions for conserving and spreading our cultural heritage and thereby fostering contemporary art production, in order to support democratization and cultural development.
EP: The museum was opened with a major temporary exhibition of Moroccan artists. Can you provide any details about the selection criteria and the works shown?
HEA: The Fondation Nationale des Musées commissioned Mohamed Rachdi to curate an ambitious exhibition. Titled "1914-2014 Cent ans de creation", it traces the history of modern and contemporary Moroccan art. For this retrospective, the curator chose solely Moroccan artists, probably to limit the spectrum of the content of the works shown and to ensure that the museum is rooted in its Moroccan context. Only by turning our gaze toward ourselves can we approach the others, to finally answer the question of identity. But Moroccan artists have always drawn inspiration from various influences, and the traces of this diversity are found in their works.
This opening exhibition thus offers a historical overview with works of art as chronological milestones. Which work was the most representative of its epoch? Which innovative element did it bring forth in its historical context? What is specific to this work and what story does it tell? … This spectrum of questions was the basis for the curator’s selection of works in conceiving an exhibition that would represent the characteristics, real and symbolic – those inherent in the historical context. Most of the selected works have seldom or never been shown in this country. To assemble them, comprehensive research was needed. This exhibition consists almost exclusively of loans from institutions, private persons, and artists, with the exception of a few gifts.
EP: In accordance with what criteria was the collection put together and what profile does it have?
HEA: The MMVI currently has no corresponding budget, whereby this deficit could prove to be an advantage, because it allows us to work from specific criteria and put together a collection with the necessary historical distance. Of course, in the future we must implement a professionally flawless strategy for purchasing works of art by using a panel of experts. Even if our procedure in this has not been finally determined, we believe that the opening exhibition "1914-2014 Cent ans de creation" offers a good prerequisite, namely of focusing primarily on works with historical value. So at first we will concentrate on historically significant art, but also keep an eye on contemporary art, because this is our cultural heritage of tomorrow. And although the opening exhibition is devoted solely to Moroccan art, our future collection will also include artists from other parts of the world.
EP: What does the future program look like? What exhibitions and projects are planned?
HEA: The opening exhibition will continue for at least six months. In the meantime, we will develop the details of the further program. But we can provide a rough overview already today: to bring a broad public closer to modern and contemporary art, we are planning several group and solo exhibitions, as well as presentations of new artistic forms of expression. Beyond that, we strive for an international dialog and would like to organize exhibitions to this end with renowned artists from other countries.
To contribute to a better understanding of modern and contemporary art, we will hold activities like discussion rounds and conferences with experts from the art world. Our declared goal is to carry out well-based, profound considerations on the production of modern and contemporary art and to convey them not only within our country, but also beyond its borders.
We also aim to expand our offering to artistic forms of expression that go beyond visual art, for example theater performances that could be adapted for the museum and presented fragmentarily. There will also be readings and film screenings. These examples are in no way complete; we are interested in all areas of art. For example, there will also be events on architecture, handicrafts, music, etc.
One basic interest is in mediating art to children and young people. We have already realized a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Education, and we work together closely with schools and associations to be able to offer a young public a program suited to its age. Awakening young people’s interest in and sensitizing them to artistic creation and acquainting them with our cultural heritage are at the center of our tasks.
EP: An institution like the museum has a special position in cultural life and thus plays an important role in Moroccan society. What task must the museum fulfill in relation to the Moroccans? What strategies for mediating art and facilitating an understanding of modern or contemporary art will be applied?
HEA: We are quite aware of our tasks and the associated work for sensitization, and so we implement a series of structures aimed at arousing desire for culture. My training as an ethno-archaeologist taught me that there is no culture without production, without artistic creation, and equally there can be no artistic creation without culture… There is no education without culture. That’s why lifelong education in art and culture is a decisive factor in cultural policy.
We thus understand the MMVI – apart from its specific tasks like conserving, fostering, and conveying – as an institution for the development and mediation of high-value cultural projects. With the desire for a democratization of culture, based on common values and a common history, we strive to appeal to a public composed of differing strata of society. To achieve this goal, our team carries out important mediation work, so that all visitors can enjoy the museum. This is why we are revising the content of all our information material to make it more understandable for a broad public. We thereby want to avoid the specialized jargon that is often difficult to understand and that carries the danger of excluding a public that does not bring the corresponding prior education. With the same underlying idea of making the museum understandable to the public, we will also conduct regular surveys among our visitors so that we can do justice to their requirements and expectations. Beyond that, we will charge the various categories of visitors adjusted admission fees, so that all Moroccans can visit the museum.
EP: The cultural infrastructure in Morocco, especially in the field of contemporary art, is fairly limited. Are collaborations with local partners envisioned that could have synergistic effects and enliven the local culture scene? What could such a model of collaboration look like?
HEA: As an important cultural facility in Rabat, our museum fits within the structure of the city with its partly public, partly private initiatives. It is our duty to play a central role in the cultural offerings and, together with the already existing cultural institutions, to work out a targeted, coherent, and attractive cultural offering, in order to cast the right light on the Moroccan art and culture scene.
We are building on this well-established network of partners, but we also intend to expand our contacts to include associations, schools, prisons, hospitals, etc. We are open for all suggestions and collaborations that could bring the museum closer to the public. In this respect, the concept of the museum extra muros is also a suitable means for addressing various groups of the public. The idea consists in showing masterpieces from the museum’s collection in various places outside the museum. Traveling exhibitions with reproductions could also be one of our offerings. One mustn’t forget that the character of museums can be intimidating, that its architectonic form could keep the average visitor at a distance. Projects like those mentioned above could work against the predominant prejudices, because they would work against the building’s "sacred" character and familiarize the public with the institution of the museum from an early age.
Founder and director of Le Cube - independent art room in Rabat, Morocco. Diploma in art history of the University of Vienna, Austria.
The opening exhibition
"1914-2014 Cent ans de creation"
traces the history of modern and contemporary Moroccan art.
Curator: Mohamed Rachdi