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Morocco and the MENA region are often overlooked in present-day contemporary culture, and when it is not, the focus is centred mainly on traditional culture. However, and since the 1990s, new media creation in Morocco and in the region has witnessed constant growth and renewal. The specific political and social conditions of these communities, their deeply rooted narrative and poetic traditions (written and oral), as well as a decisive presence of music and ritual have all allowed these works to encompass a very wide-ranging field of experimentation and reflection in which a fascination with technology is blended with a sense of poetry and rhythm, and the ability to speak directly or metaphorically about their individual or communal realities. Changing realities on the ground during these years become democratised, due to technology development, which has played an important role in artists adapting to video and digital media, thus making production more accessible and of a higher quality. The interest in new media art among new, emerging, and established artists in Morocco and the region augmented in a considerable manner. New media formats including, digital film and video, video installation, digital mapping, net art and hybrid forms, have become important tools of communication and expression.
Using various mediums and new media strategies, artists were, and still are, exploring paths of subjective expression within a newly found and fragile freedom. While there are many challenges in their societies ahead, Moroccan artists are more and more playing a role in changing their realities. Digital and media arts, and to an extent, social media tools, are becoming increasingly important forms of expression. Understanding the important role that new media creation can play, many initiatives in the region have arisen establishing projects & festivals to encourage artistic creation and to set up long term platforms for the movement.
Morocco was leading the initiatives in the region. The Casablanca International Video Art Festival, was first organized in 1993 by the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences Ben M´sik Casablanca. Thanks to the training and popularization efforts made by the faculty and the artists who have chosen to express themselves through this medium, Morocco became a relevant pole of this artistic practice in the region with several video research workshops being implemented in various faculties throughout the kingdom. I, myself, was one of the laureates of these workshops. As a result, my videos, made during this period, not only were shown in several festivals in Morocco and abroad, but also it allowed me to travel, to win prizes, and to pursuit further study abroad.
For several Moroccan artists, this festival, as well as video art as a medium of expression, were an important engine for personal, professional, and social transformation. Many Moroccan new media artists emerged from this initiative, among them: Mounir Fatmi, Brahim Bachiri, Nourredine Tilsghani, Abdelaziz Taleb, Abdelghani Bibt, Abdellatif Benfaidoul, Dalila Ennadre, to mention some.
Currently, and despite the festival continuous presence for two decades, video art remains unknown to the public in Morocco. Its marginalized status in the contemporary Moroccan art field is far from being due to the scarcity of works, or its artistic and technique quality, or to the artist’s disinterest. Rather, it is largely due to the reluctance shown by most actors in the «art world. » For many of these actors, video and digital film still lack the status of a product with a «market value. »
Initiatives from other countries followed, some through annual festivals or sponsored curatorial projects. Catherine David, for instance, curated one of her highly acclaimed and controversial projects: Contemporary Arab Representations, which included digital and video art works. The show encouraged a valuable exchange of cultural visions, but unfortunately the initiative offered only some disperse and determinate representations of The Arab world, instead of conducting a thorough research, which it would also have involved a much deep strong artistic direction in the curatorial decisions.
By contrast, initiatives like TRANSARAB (2003-2009) a video program curated by La Mostra de video de Barcelona (Ovni-Desorg) led by my deceased friend Toni Serra (Abu Ali) were very successful in offering a deep and broad vision of works that could be labelled as Arab. The program included video artist from different backgrounds, some produced from their own countries, others as part of European or American diasporas, while some others have decided to approach and immerse themselves into Arab culture for critical or personal motives.
To contribute as well to this movement giving new media art the relevance it deserves, Medrar, a Cairo based contemporary art collective, launched The Cairo Video Art Festival, becoming a reference in new media art in the region. For ten years, the festival has invited artists, filmmakers, architects, and writers to showcase the most recent global video art and experimental film productions, with a program that captures the spirit of playfulness and experimentation.
Back to Morocco, Digital Marrakech Festival was also launched in 2011 as an Annual International new media and digital art festival, aiming to present diverse trends and practices in the fields of film and video, multimedia performance, video installation, digital mapping, net art, and interdisciplinary practice. A unique experience in the country, mixing disciplines and having a strong curatorial principle.
Another contemporary leading initiative in Morocco is The Arab Media Lab project, which works towards the diffusion of independent audio-visual creation and creative cinema while also developing educational programs focus on the image.
Educational programs, events and festivals are in place aiming to contribute both to personal transformation and social change through the new media art. The main events are: Digital Marrakech International Festival, Media Art Morocco Workshops Series, master classes with relevant Moroccan and Arab film figures, the creation of the Morocco Moving Images Archive, and curated film programs like Arab Stereotypes in Western Media or Tangier Interzone to mention some.
Currently, despite all the initiatives mentioned above, and the fact that contemporary art production has been profoundly impacted by digital technologies, the artistic manifestations are traditionally connected to governmental institutions, which offer limited scope to renew formats and themes, in accordance with the changing realities, the contemporary aesthetics and contemporary cultural influences. Digital based media art creation in these countries is very limited. The work of local video artists is hardly screened, neither locally, nor internationally. Also, training in new media art is very limited, even though there is an evident growing interest. Furthermore, local cultural policies have not yet assumed the idea that culture plays a major role in community development and redevelopment, generating jobs and improving quality of life. Still, there are no strategies to incorporate arts and culture into community development plans through grants, technical assistance, financial or tax incentives.
However, ranging from the traditional to the most avant-gardist mixing sound and image Moroccan artists have made possible to create works that comprise experimentation and reflection, where technology, visual objects and rhythms are able to communicate the contemporary realities of the country and beyond.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)