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Mucem opens exhibition of works by Mohammed Kacimi
Sans titre (Untitled). Tondo, mixed technique on tar. Diameter 66 cm. Unsigned and undated. Private collection, Casablanca © Private collection, Casablanca.

MARSEILLE.- Mohammed Kacimi (1942-2003) is one of the most important post-war Moroccan plasticians. An innovative artist with a deep sense of commitment, and both an instigator and a witness to the globalisation of contemporary Arab art, he has had a major and lasting influence on the evolution of his country’s artistic landscape and served as a model for a number of young Maghreb artists, who today are internationally recognised.

The exhibition is devoted to Mohammed Kacimi’s “African period” (1993-2003)—the high point of his oeuvre—which sees him break with western art and the different aesthetic trends that influenced him in his journey, to open up a new, far more personal sphere of work, characterised by an unrestrained, free and ever more transdisciplinary expression.

By shining a light on this major period, the goal is to better understand how the work of Mohammed Kacimi was able to participate in the construction of a new Mediterranean imaginary.

Via a selection of exemplary works and significant archival documents (325 works made up of paintings, sculptures and also archives: manuscripts, texts, drawings, photographs, videos), this exhibition reveals the key role played by this plastician, who opened up the way for new generations of artists from the Arab world to make the jump towards a new contemporaneity, fed by his own cultural anchors— “an African transition”.

In this exhibition at the Mucem, a rereading can be done of his approach in the final phase of his artistic production. Mohammed Kacimi was an exceptional artist, whose trajectory—different to that of other artists on the Moroccan scene in the second half of the 20th century—was broken down into successive stages. The aim here is to deepen the final stage of his journey (between 1993 and 2003), the climax of which totally came about from the progression of an enlightened autodidact.

To discover the abundant diversity of his oeuvre, the produced pieces—flushed out from the hidden corners of this progression—seem to hurry, like constituent elements of a syntactical construction. Moreover, this is an idea that he himself defends. But what is most striking is the pluridisciplinary character of the choices made by this artist, who is engaged from an aesthetic, conceptual, political, etc., point of view. Granted, he is a painter. It is the practice that precedes everything and to which he always returns. But he is fascinated by literature and is the author of numerous texts; he is an “à la carte” graphic artist; an inveterate polemicist; a pamphleteer; a writer of tracts that have remained notorious; a pilferer of objects and materials, that he appropriates and transforms; an adept performer (in public and private); a firm believer in the virtues of open air or indoor installations. He sits in on the creation of dance or theatre performances allowing his perception of reality to alter, painting for instance on stage and in public (from wall paintings to the live creation of art works). He is infatuated with knowledge and close to popular culture in the best sense of the word. He is participant in globalisation, tirelessly fighting for human rights and freedom of expression, with wholehearted commitment. Loyal to a gentle, pacifist spirituality gained during his childhood, each of his works, each of his acts, is informed by universal concerns.

Kacimi went to nurture himself first at admired ancestors’—the painters Gharbaoui and Cherkaoui—then in the museographic filing storerooms of western modern art, but rediscovered his roots elsewhere (between the first arts and rough art) to definitely feel after many experiences that his origins were anchored in Africa. It was important for him to go there before anywhere else to explore his Maghreb genesis, caught between these different cultures that determine who he is, to locate this original and different evidence, which he had been seeking since his youth to ensure that his oeuvre would at last be both “complete” and accurate as per his most intimate wishes: to put in a image the most precise possible coincidence between his truth and that of his time.

One finds today this quest for ascendency with most young artists, who are more of less directly connected with North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa, and either stayed in their homeland, or gravitated to the international art scene. Kacimi is one of those (and most likely the only one in Morocco), who liberated the generations that followed him from the straightjacket of the painting of the École de Paris and, while reaching beyond it and Islamic creativity’s orientalist, craft or heritage archetypes, does not reject its positive aspects. He is of that people who help others find their way between a respect of their cultures and the turbulences of a modernity in eternal transformation.

This uniquely original oeuvre resembles no other, and today in Morocco one realises the extent of its crucial significance. But the art world remains unaware of it. There are nevertheless in all Mediterranean countries two banks with the creators of this flow, these agents of the transition. These artists, who thus participated in a form of transition in their countries, are rarely those who are promoted by the international art market as it governs the artistic scene. Poor communicators, workaholics, sharers of their know-how and experiences—they work on their art! Within this proliferation, it was often a delicate exercise for the curator of this exhibition to bring order to the work of Mohammed Kacimi—some 4,500 pieces—who neither signed, nor dated his works, and more often than not, did not title them.

The Mucem thus undertakes this first exhibition as a veritable adventure of discovery, with a series of choices that will only be clear later on. At some point, it envisages to present the approach of similar “passers-on” from different nations and whose as yet relatively confidential role waits to be revealed. Such great artists, analysts of their society, important players in the Mediterranean basin, some unknown or barely known, have always been responsible revealers—sometimes not even wanting this role—for the generation of young artists who would follow them.

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