13th Gwangju Biennale — Minds Rising Spirits Tuning

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Farid Belkahia

Returning to a newly independent Morocco after spending his formative years in Paris and Prague, Farid Belkahia was appointed director of Casablanca’s École des Beaux-Arts in 1962, a time when the school was ripe for a sweeping artistic revolution. Together with friends and members of the Casablanca School, including Mohammed Melehi and Mohammed Chabâa, Belkahia confronted the legacy of France’s long colonial occupation to revitalize the country’s artistic vocabulary and build transnational solidarity with Third World networks, participating in events like the Pan-African Cultural Festival in Algiers in 1969 and the First Arab Biennial in Baghdad in 1974. Belkahia’s approach toward new forms of pedagogy rooted in Berber Tuareg and Arab artisanal traditions led him to reform the curriculum of the school and incorporate rug making, weaving, jewelry, and pottery in the education of a new generation of Moroccan artists. “It is only through our past that we can accede to modernity. I know of no ahistorical modernity,” he claimed.

For decades, Belkahia incessantly explored the primeval knowledge of materials’ alchemical transmutation through media like copper sculpture, Tifinagh calligraphy on sheepskin that evokes the sacredness of tattooed bodies, and local natural dyes and pigments, which gave his works a rare color gradient and vivacity. An archetypal dimension of birth and renewal is invoked by two Corten steel sculptures of trees (Arbre, ca. 1980s) and a colorful dawn (Aube, 1983) in which ideas of beginning and emergence are incorporated into the tactility of an abstract desert and mountain landscape. The spiritual connection with planetary cycles recalled by these themes echoes in the ceremonial symbolism of two works titled Procession (1995; no date). These compositions are scored in a gestural manner in which organic symmetry infuses movement and structure to circles and arrows that indicate fields of energy. Seeking to overcome human corporeality, Irresistible Ascension (1985) and Totem (1998) both manifest Belkahia’s innate spiritual intelligence, expressed in ecstatic experiences and novel forms of kinship through memory and heritage for, as the artist once said, “tradition is the future of man.”

Michelangelo Corsaro