Tangier – Unlike the imperial cities of Morocco, such as Fez, Marrakech, and even Meknes, very little remains of Tangiers’ ancient structural history. Many of the historical signs are filled with ‘possibly that’, or ‘probably this’, and even many of the antique pieces that have been unearthed are vastly disappointing in comparison to the many archaeological treats of Morocco’s other cities.
Tangier’s charm however, lies in its atmosphere, rather than being a city of must-see sites. Having a highly individualized character, it is partly based on its unique location as the gateway to Africa and the meeting point of the Mediterranean Sea and Europe. Since its very inception, Tangiers was always seen as a global melting pot with artistic leanings: The Carthaginians and Phoenicians established it as a trading post, which was invaded by the Vandals, made a capital city by the Romans and finally occupied by the Arabs. The true pulse of this former international city lies in its artistic and literary memory.
Located in the prestigious villa originally constructed to house the British Consulate in 1890, the city’s museum of contemporary art sits aloof, almost inconspicuous in the heart of down town Tangiers. After redevelopment began in 2006, the museum was renamed Contemporary Art Gallery Mohammed Drissi, in homage to the creative spirit of Moroccan Artist Mohammed Drissi (1946-2003).
Organized by the museum’s director Rachid Amahjour, whose uncharacteristic humility and even self-effacement in a world of huge egos, has steered Drissi into one of the most prestigious state galleries in Morocco. Since its inception in April 2007, it has been an incubus and crossroads for contemporary local and international artists, gallery owners, art associations, media, as well as collectors.
Walking into the classic wood floor lobby, I am at once transported back into a more sentimental time of the beatnik and inter-zone reflections, when the very name Tangier vibrated with international art expressions and sudden burst of creative pulses.
With its five specious rooms, this gallery has hosted the works of various artists from all over Morocco and the world over the last seventeen years. However this evening’s exhibition displays something special, even unusual and yet reflective of the changes happening within the art world of one of the most cosmopolitan Moroccan cities.
Cherifa and Jean Pierre are among those truly inspired artists whose art has been born by the transformative social dynamic of being global citizens. Born in Oujda, Morocco world traveler Cherifa Rabeh attended fine arts schools in Cannes, France before setting out in the world and honing her craft among diverse cultures such as Nigeria, South Africa, and the United States. An artist of intense boundless energy and deep compassion, her background as a psychologist truly allows her to connect with her audience both on a personal level as well as through her art. After a forty year absence, 2004 marked her return to her birth-land and now she seeks to reconcile those eclectic and natural expressions from Morocco that have left an indelible mark on her heart since childhood.
Cherifa describes her paintings as both subjective and objective, expressions that know no limits, nor prohibitions, where everything is possible. Cherifa’s work enables us to accept its proposals, its compositions, and even abstractions as free as the wind like the artist herself.
The polar opposite of his wife Cherifa, Jean Pierre is as reserved and understated as he is talented. Born in France and raised in a household that showcased paintings and other creative forms of expression, Mr. Gross would follow a dramatically different career path and work as a professional business consultant for over thirty-five years. Traversing over one hundred and twenty countries, however, like a river finding its course back to the sea, Jean Pierre would eventually return to his love of painting and with it bringing a sense of detail and perfection learned in his many years of working in the financial world.
His paintings examine the meaning of appearances at different levels of reality and perspective, and real time being captured in the moment. The creativity infers a subtle concept of wisdom, as does the artist himself. The paintings of Jean Pierre Grosse are pictures of stillness in the center of movement in which the present moment becomes immortalized. This is art that allows one to assess what has existed forever, like this reminiscence in Tangier, “a temporary victory over death”
Despite being residents of Marrakech, both Chierfa and Jean Pierre’s art share an intertwining envelopment with the culture of Tangier. Birthed in the deep waters of internationalism, in between east and west, north and south, Africa and Europe, the universal themes of birth and death as well as reconciling man’s eternal quest for freedom, these global artists and this eclectic art gallery surely are reflective mirrors of the miraculous and multifaceted artistic culture of the city which forever lies at the crossroads. As a writer, Tangier will always be a Town of Artists, a town of creation, and a town of the imaginary!
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