Search archive

Platform for discussion003

Can Artistic Practices Negotiate the Demands of Cultural Institutions, Public Space, and Civil Society?

Omar Berrada, Director of Library and Center for Literary Translation, Dar al-Ma’mûn, Marrakech
2 May 2012

Dar al-Ma'mûn is a new arts centre and residency for artists and translators outside of Marrakech. The questions of public space and of civil society have been with us since the beginning, as we were trying to avoid creating a mere retreat for artists, a luxurious ivory tower for intellectuals in the middle of nowhere – precisely because the countryside is not 'nowhere'. We have neighbours, who were there before us – it's a quiet, though lively village, behind which lie more villages. A lot of the adults there are illiterate. Their children, though, go to school, to an elementary school in the village, and a middle school a few miles away.


As a budding institution, our impulse in order to 'bridge the gap' was to establish a children's library and a whole range of free educational projects: reading and writing workshops, literacy classes, a pre-school programme and film screenings. These initiatives have been fascinating and successful and enriching for all involved, but they have not veered much from the provider/receiver model.


Recently, one of our resident artists, Elín Hansdóttir, installed Mud Brick Spiral between Dar al-Ma'mûn and the entrance of the village: a large mirror labyrinth made of the same mud bricks the villagers use to build their houses. The spiral was immediately appropriated by the children as a favourite hangout and play area.


In the process of making and installing her work, Elín carved out a space, or rather, made the space visible – the physical space between the residency and the village; the immaterial space of communication between heterogeneous communities. It made us realise that this empty space of separation could be a neutral space of coming together, a literal common ground – 'a perfect and absolute blank'[1].


It also confirmed that institutions should take their cues from the artists they work with, and from their audiences.  Hence the idea we had of inviting intellectuals to speak to and with the villagers, in that neutral space, in front of Mud Brick Spiral, speaking not French or English, or even standard Arabic, but colloquial Moroccan Arabic as a means of expression, and ending each event with a shared meal, prepared by the villagers who are the real hosts of the evening.


Our first speaker, on the 31st of March, 2012, was writer Driss Ksikès who chose, precisely, to talk about issues of public space. Philosopher Ali Benmakhlouf was in attendance, and subsequently wrote a report on the event, which you can read here.


[1] Lewis Carroll, The Hunting of the Snark, 1874: 'Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes! /  But we've got our brave Captain to thank:/  (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best - /  A perfect and absolute blank!"'


Omar Berrada

directs the library and translation centre at Dar al-Ma’mûn in Marrakech. A writer and translator, he grew up in Casablanca and lives between Morocco and France. He hosted shows on French national radio (2004-2007) and public programmes at the Centre Georges Pompidou (2006-2009). He curated the Tangier International Book Salon in 2008, as well as the literary programme of the Marrakech Biennale in 2012. He co-translated, into French, Jalal Toufic’s The Withdrawal of Tradition Past a Surpassing Disaster (Les prairies ordinaires, 2011) and Stanley Cavell’s Senses of Walden (Th.Ty, 2008). He recently edited, with Erik Bullot, Expanded Translation – A Treason Treatise (Sharjah Art Foundation, 2011), a book of verbal and visual betrayals; and, with Yto Barrada, Album – Cinémathèque de Tanger (Virreina/LDC, 2012), a multilingual volume about film in Tangier and Tangier on film.

of 28

Back to platform responses