The process of globalization is consistently increasing the speed of the development of multicultural societies, and multiculturalism itself is becoming the way of the contemporary world. As a prominent example, contemporary Germany consists of a diverse multicultural landscape of individuals whose origins stem from every continent of the world. Many countries such as France, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Italy, the UK, USA, Australia, Canada and other countries are constantly engaging with active multiculturalism policies which are continually being amended and reinvented.
Ben Ali K. Marouf morroccan painter and artist shared with us in a short interview (25.11.2010 – Interview conducted by Gwenola Rivoal & Naeem Meer) his personal point of view concerning the role of art in raising cultural awareness and promotiong cultural mutual understanding.
Your work is described as attempting to build bridges between the Orient and the Occident. What role does art play in creating better intercultural understanding in the world?
My job is meant to act mainly as a bridge, aiming to promote Moroccan culture in Germany, but also to expose Moroccans to the German culture. After several years exhibiting my work in Germany, I discovered that people are happy to see so many colours; it’s alive, it warms their body and soul. When I exhibit in Morocco, the reactions are different. I show simple things – things that I find on the floor for example. With these materials, I also make collages. I sometimes take a piece of wood and glue it to a canvas. At first, it makes Moroccans laugh, but it’s also a way for me to get their attention. This type of work has, in the end, a greater effect on the Moroccan public, whereas the colour often captures the German public.
Sometimes art has the ability to communicate things better than facts and divisive arguments. Can you comment on the ability of art to transcend petty and local differences?
I have the feeling of being an international artist. I am part of Germany, of Morocco, and of the world. I am a citizen of the world. With my art I try to distract people from the ugly things, the sadness of war, for example. Ultimately art is highly subjective, and as a result the feelings of the people vary a lot. We cannot explain art because, by definition, it is explained by itself. Therefore the interpretations are diverse, some people may be receptive to my paintings, others are not. Art becomes the vehicle for communication between individuals who come to see my paintings, but it also acts a forum for people to come and exchange views amongst each other.
Morocco is situated between north and south and east and west, with influences coming from Spain, France, Africa, Asia, and even across the Atlantic. How does this fact impact on the level of cultural tolerance in Morocco?
Yes it definitely has an impact. Morocco is very close to Europe, and has long had a very good relationship with the continent. Painters, photographers and filmmakers do make known Morocco through their works. They represent one of the major elements of strong bond that Morocco has with the rest of the world. I for example, also exhibit my work in other African countries and several European countries – France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain. I find items or subjects of my paintings or sculptures all over the globe. I incorporate these things into my work or I give one of my paintings the name of a city that I visited for example. This is how I see the relationship between Morocco and the outside world, existing in a sort of permanent exchange.
How has growing up in Morocco shaped your art and also your world view?
It definitely plays a major role. I was born in Fez, the oldest and most beautiful city of Morocco. Today I live in Marrakech, a more international city. Yet I remain very committed and inspired by my hometown. Manual labour is still of utmost importance with, for example working with sheepskin. That is something I witnessed every day as a child. However, my works are not necessarily traditional. I was raised in a resolutely modern household, and I think my art is also modern. I prefer to take traditional elements and make them modern, not the reverse. Certainly, I integrate elements that are old and used, but the approach is more that of a “recycling” of these objects and the revaluation of the traditional. I wanted to re-use these objects. One of my paintings has a frame made of old car tire. Some others do also the same, as I have seen people use these old tires into making shoes, handbags or mirrors. For me, those are artists. They seek beauty in things that nobody wants, and make bring it to the fore.
As an artist, how different is the reaction of non-Moroccan audiences to your art? Is there a particular difference for those not familiar with the Moroccan artistic tradition?
The German public is often excited by my work. However, when Moroccans come see my paintings, they often smile if I exposed some of the pieces that are here (in Berlin). My work with hair combs for example: most probably some would find it too simple and would not see beyond this. The objects are not perceived as objects of art in Morocco, as Moroccans they often feel they are already living in simplicity. They prefer modern things, technology. We could expose a computer, a television, but it would be very strange for the Moroccan public to consider with interest that bit of old cardboard annotated “5 dirhams”. Although of course I do not want to talk about money but the symbolism of the number 5! The number 5 means the hand that means protection. This small piece of cardboard that seems insignificant protects my work. The sign of the eye, which is also features prominently in my work, watches over the exhibition and guards against evil spirits.