Marrakech the Ocher City of light will finally have a Grand Museum of Islamic Art worthy of the name
Founded in 1062 by Youssef Ibn Tachfin, first ruler of the Almoravid dynasty, Marrakech is at once imperial city, city of light, ocher city, town red or pearl of the south, the images do not fail to qualify. Marrakech, the city is called “Ocher” because of its walls and ramparts built of red clay earth, which gives this colourful identity, it is a place full of magic! The real reason is much more poetic. When Sultan Ali Ben Youssef wanted to build the walls in the early twelfth century, he asked (It was the custom at the time) to his astrologer to indicate the correct date to begin work. The rich colours and oriental scents that the lull, activity and life itself that animate know exactly entice visitors.
With the countless markets, gardens, courtyards secret, palaces and mosques, the city offers visitors the full view in a mysterious atmosphere. In all cases, the best way to discover the neighborhood along its ramparts walk or caliche, before succumbing for a Tangia speciality and calm your thirst with a mint tea on the terraces overlooking the rooftops of the ocher city.
The reason that attracts these foreign tourists, is like many Moroccan cities, Marrakech comprises an old fortified city packed with vendors and their stalls (“The Medina”), bordered by modern neighborhoods, the most prominent of which is “Gueliz”. Today it is one of the busiest cities in Africa and serves as a major economic centre and tourist destination in an authentic decor.
Tourism is strongly advocated by the reigning Moroccan monarch, Mohamed VI, aiming of doubling the number of tourists visiting Morocco to 20 Million by 2020. Marrakesh is particularly popular with the French, and numerous French celebrities own property in the city. Marrakesh has the largest traditional Berber market (”Souk”) in Morocco, with some 18 souks selling wares ranging from traditional Berber carpets to modern consumer electronics. Crafts employ a significant percentage of the population, who primarily sell their products to tourists. According to the Regional Delegation of Tourism the number of tourists who visited the city of Marrakech in October last year reached 99,950 against 86,631 during the same period last year, an increase of 15.37 %. According to statistics, the French occupied the first position with 52,764 arrivals, followed by National (14,288), British (5,433), Italians (5421) and Germans with 5,320 arrivals.
However, what is really missing in this city of Marrakech is a great museum to further enrich it’s rich culture.
M Lalaoui Ouajid Moulay Said, a native of Marrakech, having lived in Dubai, Los Angeles, Tokyo, and other mega cities, took the decision to move back to Morocco and undertook the museum project. He studied The Prodigal Son returned back home, decided to make his dream come true by undertaking design and build ‘The Special School of Architecture’, in Paris. He dreamed since his 20’s of his gigantic project to offer a “Grand Museum” in the “Ocher City“. After with 8 years of physical and human investment (Supervision of the project by his wife Suzanne Ouajid Mc Kay), this brave visionary bâtisseur is about to usher in the next Grand Museum at the height of the tourist influx of this authentic quotes and full of treasures its heritage, even if already rich folklore. He created the Ouajid & Roger Galliano Foundation for the promotion of Art and Intercultural Exchanges with his partner Roger Fernandez Galiano (Archaeologist and Islamic Art Expert and commisseur auctioneer).
Rahma Rachdi, a journalist with special interest in Economy and finance, sat down with M Lalaoui Ouajid Moulay Said and had the following candid conversation:
Where and when did you get the idea of creating the Grand Museum of Marrakech?
Almost in a sub-conscience way, I must have felt the need of a cultural venue for Marrakech since in 1984, for my final year degree, my project consisted of a touristic and cultural events venue. Other than preparing it for my final project, at the time, I didn’t think about developing the idea any further, but the very fact of working on this idea shows my early interest for the arts and culture in Marrakech and Morocco in general.
The idea gradually maturing during my 30 years of business in various domains and in various countries, until I decided to dedicate myself to this dream in 2002, when talk of the actual project as we know it today started.
What is the size of the new Grand Museum of Marrakech area, financial cost, involvement of institutions of Morocco, UNESCO, or other? Also, can you tell us if you financed this project yourself?
The site of the museum is strategically located on 10 hectares on a range of hills north of Marrakech, very similar in composition to Alhambra’s position with Grenada. Capturing a mystical atmosphere, calm and unique, away from the city’s buzz. This location provides the museum with a panoramic view of the plane of Marrakech, with the monumental Atlas mountain chains in the background.
The finance of this project has been my own personal funding, and the collection is a contribution of a great art collector, Roger Galliano. Otherwise, at the moment, there are no official institutions been involved in neither the funding nor partnerships.
What is the striving of this museum? and what is the vocation for visual artists, sculptors and others?
For a country that’s so rich in cultural and artistic heritage like Morocco, there aren’t many museums here.
Our first objective is to give Marrakech a real museum, one of international standards, designed to promote artistic exchanges and cultural ties between Moroccan and Arab diversity and the rest of the world.
The evident ambition is to develop the arts and culture both on a national and international level. Establishing an important collection for the museum works towards preserving our country’s history and creating a vitrine of our country’s identity. We take the duty of implementing culture into the new generation’s education very seriously, which is an immense responsibility in a sense. Of course, the museum will be a dynamic venue of interaction and a place for learning and cultural exchange.
Present day Morocco and in the Arab world, countries are bursting of potential and possibility, we hope to place this museum on the front line, pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation.
What is special about this museum? From an architectural point of view, what is the type of design?
In keeping with our preservation and valorisation of the past, the architecture has been moulded around various typical architecture styles found all across the Islamic art and architecture legacy, that is spreading from India’s far east, through Iran and Syria’s distinctive architecture across to the Ottoman’s famous cupolas and the Andalusian celebrated passageways and gardens. The museum is the fruit of a homogeneous blend of all these architecture styles. The fact that the whole structure is planned on one level, the ground floor, is also very distinctive of early Islamic architecture on the Arabian Peninsula.
Unlike most art history museums in the world, our museum has been purposely built to host an art collection. Thus, the building has been planned around the collection and not vice-versa. To the contrary of the exterior, the interior of the museum will englobe a new tradition of Islamic architecture, one that is modern, minimalist and pristine, adopting new techniques and innovative materials. Thus, the interior design avoids distracting the visitor’s attention away from the objects.
A lot of consideration and thought have gone into the planning and creation of the garden space. The gardens play an important role in reproducing the very sought after serene and appeasing feeling found in Andalusian architecture.
And what about the theme – less materialistic, but spiritual and philosophical?
Museums are gateways into ones civilisation past and history, they provide in depth insights into peoples’ culture. Our architecture has been carefully studied to emerge the visitor into a space and time reminiscent of the Roger Galliano collection. And to achieve a complete experience, we will invoke all five senses. Through our various objects, their surrounding architecture, the gardens and the melodies played in the hallways, the museum will transport the visitors through the history of our collection, making the experience of visiting the museum, a complete and memorable journey.
How do you make your choice of artists? What are the criteria to expose at the largest museum in Marrakech?
The choice of our collection is also in keeping with our philosophy, in a way that it concord with similar human values that our museum has been built around. Roger Galliano, a world famous Islamic art expert and collector and has been an important contributor to this project. His private collection will be on display permanently starting at the opening of the museum.
As for the temporary exhibitions, our motivation is to encourage the arts. And so, all art form, culture and artisan production will be hosted within our walls, ranging from Moroccan artists to international contemporary creations as well as technical or historical educational exhibitions and exchanges between other museums. The projects will be approved by a committee, which will judge applications based on their quality and relevance to our philosophy and objectives.
What was the cast of artists chosen for the preview of exhibition in last December?
As mentioned previously, our choices are always based on our principle of strong human values. Hence, all the artists shown at the exhibitions are true artist and art lovers. Their practice of art is a true passion and reflective of our mission to encourage art appreciation. For this first edition only, we have obviously chosen to privilege Moroccan art.
The exhibition was concomitant with Film Festival of Marrakech, is this coincidence? Or are you partners with this international annual festival?
The time frame of the exhibition was based around this very busy period of the year in Marrakech. As an up-and-coming destination and a cultural city, the exhibition has been strategically scheduled to coincide with various art and tourism related events. We have benefited from the presence of international press as well as important personalities all gathered in Marrakech at this period of the year. The Film Festival of Marrakech”, although sharing our same values of art and culture development is not an official partner.
When is the date of the inauguration of the Museum?
The official opening of the museum is scheduled “Inchallah” in the second half of 2014.
(Rahma Rachdi is a French journalist who specialises in economy and finance. She also covers cultural (fashion and cinema) and political events, and other issues linked to the MENA region. Rahma is also the editor of fun-finance.com, a website where economy and finance matters are explained with the help of short, informative and funny comics and animations.)