I recently spent a week in the city of Casablanca in Morocco. As part of the Three Artists, Three Cities project, where three artists, myself, Martin Travers, and Benjamin Benarakad traveled together to paint in three different cities, beginning with Casablanca. We will continue to Amsterdam and then finally to Birmingham, England.
The first stop is Casablanca, and it was quite exciting for me – my first mural in Africa. I have painted in nearly every other continent, North America, Australia, the Far East, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and now North Africa.
Our first part of the week was gathering ideas and talking to local people, getting an idea of the issues that people feel strongly about. I always feel that a mural needs to capture the ideas of the people, and include imagery that resonates with them. They will see this wall, everyday, it doesnt make sense to just cut and paste something from myself as an artist. So the three artists traveled across the city, and we took pictures of the nice side of town, but also, the not-so-nice. This picture i took below, you can see the slums in the foreground, with the grand mosque – the second largest in the entire world in the background. Quite a strong contrast.
It was a humbling experience working in a working class residential area, where small apartment blocks built by the French in the mid-1900′s were inhabited by large families. The mural was unlike many murals I’ve painted which often are at busy junctions, highly visible in the city by traffic and passer-bys. This mural was hidden from the public street, but visible to the people of the housing complex. It felt really good to be offering something to this very tight-knit community, something for them to see as they open their curtains everyday, some art to enhance their own environment. It served a different purpose to that of a mural that sits in rush hour traffic. Upon completion the families invited us into their homes, we had painted their homes, so they embraced us into their personal spaces- we had made real connections – unlike that of a mural that sits on a street corner.
During the mural painting over 3 days, local residents had cooked for us, we ate from the same plate as them, they brought the food out to us and we sat and ate together in front of the mural! This dish below we were told is a traditional dish that Rfissa – that is made only on special occasions, so we felt quite blessed!
Moroccan tea is served to us throughout the day by the locals!The local resident kids got stuck in doing a lot of the preparation, including the painting of the palm tree!We had a local teenager who was living in the awful slums that exist in Casablanca, who helped us throughout the project – he was locally known by the name of ‘Panini’ and we were told the reason for that was that he once got caught stealing a panini out of hunger! But he was now reformed – and also an budding graffiti artist too! In the picture below you can see him resting while myself and Martin are busy attacking the wall.
The highlight of any mural is to stand back on completion and just say ‘It’s done!’ but to stand alongside people who own the wall – with smiles on their faces, is really quite something else. People who had very little – but gave so much and showed us love. We went upstairs to take pictures from the top of the blook, but as we went ascended the staircases, on each floor we heard from the residents and how they felt about this splash of colour that now adorned their concrete walls. Art with a purpose bringing people’s hearts together is what it’s all about for me.