Curator Mouna Mekouar On Yves Saint Laurent And Moroccan Contemporary Art

Mouna Mekouar is a Paris-based Moroccan curator and art critic who has held curatorial positions at Center Pompidou-Metz in northeastern France and at Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Having curated numerous exhibitions on Yves Saint Laurent, including “Yves Saint Laurent aux Musées” at six leading Parisian cultural institutions and “Tamy Tazi, Fernando Sanchez, Yves Saint Laurent – Une Amitié Marocaine” at Musée Yves Saint Laurent Marrakech, she discusses the French Couturier’s passion for Morocco and noteworthy Moroccan contemporary artists she selected for the recent “Love” exhibition, which she co-curated at Palácio Duques de Cadaval in Évora, Portugal, alongside Stephan Janson and Alexandra de Cadaval. The show explored Morocco’s contemporary art scene and the influences today’s artists share with Saint Laurent, whose creations reflect the fashion designer’s bold use of color and space, desire to work beyond cultural boundaries and fascination with Moroccan decorative arts.

Why was Yves Saint Laurent so inspired by Morocco that it became his second home?

I think maybe you can feel it with all these artists. It’s all about simplicity and sophistication. You could be very sophisticated and complex, but at the same time very simple, and all the works of Yves Saint Laurent are very simple in the lines, very elegant and, at the same time, really sophisticated. I think the way all these artists use color is very easy, very simple and, at the same time, the meaning, what they want to say, is really sophisticated. This balance between simplicity and sophistication was something that was very important for Yves Saint Laurent, and when you see color in Morocco, it’s all about that.

How did you choose the 12 Moroccan contemporary artists for this exhibition?

When I was asked to do something on contemporary art and Yves Saint Laurent, I had the idea of ​​showing how Yves Saint Laurent was very much inspired by color and how today contemporary artists in Morocco or from Morocco are using color in their works. Yves Saint Laurent once said, “Marrakech opened my eyes to color.” With that as a starting point, I started to choose different artists who could dialogue with the works of Yves Saint Laurent, and at the same time reveal one aspect of their own way of looking at color. I could of course have chosen other artists, but I think that all these artists bring something very special about each aspect of the way we use color in Morocco. It was also a way for me to bring together emerging and established artists. For the very young artist Nassim Azarzar, it’s about urban signs or the taxi colors of Morocco. This is the ornamentation that we have on the trucks that he made bigger. Yto Barrada is quite well-known. She was part of the Whitney Biennial last year and had a show at the MoMA the previous year. It’s also a multi-generational show. You have Mohammed Melehi who was born in the same year as Yves Saint Laurent and was one of the most famous painters in Morocco. He had a show at The Mosaic Rooms and works at the MoMA. The funny thing is that he went to New York in the ’70s, met Frank Stella and brought him to Morocco, and Stella started doing abstract paintings inspired by Morocco. And Yto Barrada is paying tribute to Stella through two paintings called “After Stella”, so the exhibition is also a way of talking about how we share colors between countries and how we share colors between artists, between Stella and Melehi, between Yves Saint Laurent and young artists like Soufiane Idrissi. Soufiane is a post-Internet artist who works with colors he found by using algorithms, but you can also feel that he’s really in the tradition of Melehi and other Moroccan painters. Melehi used to have a magazine called Integral, and poets, writers, craftsmen, painters all wrote in his magazine. It was a multidisciplinary magazine and the idea was to try to break down the hierarchy between crafts and the arts in Morocco, which is still something really important.

Are these artists’ oeuvre known specifically for their use of color, or is it just one aspect of their practices?

M’Barek Bouhchichi is someone who’s really working with natural colors like the different colors of the soils of Morocco or henna with craftswomen from the Sahara. He’s from the Sahara and is working with ladies from there to use the crafts and natural colors as one of the themes in his work. It is also the case with Hicham Berrada, who works with chemicals coming from the soil. The philosopher Gaston Bachelard used to say that the soil keeps its own secret colors through iron, copper and all those minerals that we have in the soil. If you reveal them by using some acid products or create reactions, then they become colorful landscapes. Hicham is a painter who uses chemicals instead of brushstrokes. Younes Rahmoun is really into spirituality and Sufism, and all his works are about what color means for us, the relationship between us and color. All of the artists have color as a theme in their work. Of course, they have other works, but color is really important for all of them.

Tell me about the artist who used stained glass.

That is Sara Ouhaddou who makes tapestries with craftsmen. She’s really in between contemporary art and crafts. In Morocco, the old houses used to have stained-glass windows, which she collected, cut and redid the composition into new designs. You see that progressively they go from one which is really colorful to something that becomes more and more transparent and white. She’s questioning our relationship to color, where houses become much more in this way than they were before in the past. The link with Yves Saint Laurent is completely direct, which she didn’t know about. Yves Saint Laurent was very much inspired by Morocco and by all the zellige tiles, the crafts in Morocco, which Sara also looks at. He looked at local crafts and local costumes for ladies or for men. He had his own collections of Moroccan crafts, Berber crafts, and that really inspired him as much as Sara or M’Barek, whose carpets resembling abstract paintings are amazing.

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