The quirky boulder

The quirky boulder

The quirky boulder

Hills and dales, trees and rocks, a blue sky over great outdoors, these are the wonders composing the basic stuff of nature. They fill the soul with magic fragrances and they thrill the mind. They sharpen all of our senses and they uplift the will through an endless meditative mood. Then in a dizzying rush, they raise it up to the absolute perfection, the one in play between the vegetal world and the mineral one, between fall and rise, between rooting and budding, between immanence and transcendence. Is not that the vital principle of intrinsic value expressed so rightly through any action questioning the infinitude?

 

I need to use these basic natural elements to try to recall my past. This changeless time of our memory, I do like to track its reminiscences all over the wide charcoal drawings that I start sketching each time I feel gloomy. Unless this urge for creation stems from my repressed tension quickly popping up through a lightning surge, thus marking its course on a smooth uncluttered canvas, to then shape up into the other side of my art, the one I am supposed to identify with.

So as not to let my thought get lost, not to let my mind wander into a random speculation, I shall focus my thinking on a specific point, a sole point of reference that would be a challenging anchor against the merciless pace imposed by the infinity of time, thanks to its everlasting stillness and steadfastness. I decided to choose this clunky rock as my own anchor, with its singular structure and its naturally clear-cut edges.

 

This quite big rock with a so strange shape is actually made of four blocks artfully structured in an unshakable steady state; a massive boulder giving off a certain image of power and paradox which could, strangely, be reminiscent to an ancient colossal sculpture. I drew it all over a big canvas and I posted a mysterious red sign on it, as if my boulder was livened up by a bewitching force.

 

You’ll find it easily. It stands where it has always been, a few steps away from the family house and right next to a ravine at the outskirts of a dark pine forest covering the whole foot of the mountain side. An army of trees is since ever surrounding it as if their leaves were paying tribute by offering the shadow of their highest branches to the boulder, thus giving it the hermetic look of a sanctuary that would be forever witnessing the fathomless story of these highlands.

 

Insomuch as you lend an ear like I always do each time homesickness brings me back to the place I was born, you will hear the echoing whisper of a secret litany, as if it was springing from the depths of a hazy silence. Be prepared to skip a beat, this murmur will give you goose pimples. But then, the breath of a loving voice will call you out to comfort you and to warmly welcome you.

 

Therefore, in your bewilderment, you shall admit that these places are all the more so winsome when they are sprinkled with rocks stubbornly defying the hard climate and the random effects of the bad weather. Because at least, rocks do stay forever immutable to anchor in time and space whilst the mankind often tends not to learn the lessons of its own past.

This amazing stony block, set straightly here by a mysterious will, never sparked no one’s interest. I spotted it and often visit it since my very early childhood. As I was not able to climb on it, I was knee-high to a grass hopper, I settled thus for scampering around on and on, all the while sketching on the ground the moving track of its shifting shadow clearly outlined against a backdrop of dry herbs and scattered stones, as if I was stringing up the hours of the day.

 

As soon as I was big enough to reach the top of myboulder, I used to stay there for hours, with the sweet feeling of being somewhere else. I spent my time over there counting the tops of the trees gracefully overhanging a bushy forest, or staring at the race in the sky between the fluffy clouds and a light breeze. And way up high, I was having great time watching for hours the balletic spreading flight of the crows in the sparkling background of a twilight sky while they were swiftly flying away towards their nests in the fissures of the crests.

 

And that’s when a summer day, whereas I was chilling out on the top of my rocky tower, I happened to delve into a sweet daydream. My mind was wandering, my legs were dangling, I was taking a nosedive. And all of a sudden, due to a swift movement, here I am head over heels on the ground, with a lower back pain and some minor scratches. More scared than hurt, I decided to lie by omission and I carefully hid the truth, because I did not want my parents to ground me by forbidding me those daydream moments that I was fully living over my gentle huge rock.

 

Each time the call of my childhood’s wide open spaces brings me back to my home soil, my memory always branches out to find its footing by beautifying the past. And upon each return, the very first thing I see is my dear quirky boulder still remaining in post, stubbornly raising at the exact same place. And each time, my heart beats faster, my sight is blurred and my eyes mist over because of my deep emotion.

 

And yet, beyond any indicative approach or beyond any random consideration, shouldn’t we feel concerned by the fact that this amazing piece of rock, mysteriously set in by a supreme will at the exact perfect place with the just perfect balance, could be not that well shielded from the men’s misdeeds? I am afraid that as long as our mother nature’s heritage doesn’t get the care and attention it fully deserves, careless minds may think that my boulder is nothing more than a common pile of stones among so many others. A so stunning legacy slowly dying day after day, and so few voices to awake the collective consciousnesses, to warn all of us and stand as one to fight foolishness and unconcern.

 

And as a general rule, isn’t it high time to highlight the failures, to find out the flaws that keep on jeopardizing our national natural potential? Shouldn’t we combine the concept of progress and development with our consciousness of the interest we express about the natural resources of our country?

 

So then, no one can deny that when it comes to our future, these are some of the wise questions likely to call us to mind some day. And then again, beyond any reasoning whatsoever credible it can be, this is an unchanging truth that no principle in the world can conceal.

November 26, 2016
Abdelkébir RABI’

The Habous A Call through the Light

The Habous
A Call through the Light

The Habous
A Call through the Light

FOREWORD

“I might be told that this concern is just mine and nobody else’s, but I don’t think so. I think that inasmuch as someone, anyone, is used to sincerely expose his true being, all those he knows shall be somehow playing a part in his story. And the reason is that absolutely no one can shine a light on his own life without throwing here and there some of this light over the lives of others”.

(Simone de Beauvoir “The Coming Of Age”

It is no random if I chose to start with this very quote from such a great lady. Because of its self-explanatory meaning which will be backing my aim to highlight the real value of reminiscences, as long as they determine the real sense of a life experience.

Not only this quote of Simone de Beauvoir will back my aims but it will also help me out in clearing them up so I can get rid of any outguess that could scramble the true meaning of my message. For the reason that when all is said and done, wouldn’t sharing memories mean exposing the frail and vulnerable condition of one’s inner self?

As for the pieces of pictures supporting my text, I took care not to show the whole painting so I can stay away from any unneeded informative side. These are a series of selected details from different works coming in sundered and messy rows, as so many instant feelings to illustrate the different steps of creating an artwork, all the while not showing the entirety of the end result.

Moreover, doing so means bringing to the fore a logical sequence which chimes with the process ruling the memory. Indeed, doesn’t our memory actually work with fragments of images which mingle together and untangle ceaselessly? And these images keep on disappearing then reappearing, sometimes blurring sometimes clearing, depending on the story they tell about a specific slice of life with all of its good and bad.

Speaking of memory, I’ll draw on mine to start off with a moment of truth that I lived beside a trivial journey, when fate has already forged a bound-to-happen web of situations which deeply swayed my artistic feelings and definitively determined my outlook as a painter, by leading me the right way round.

Revival of a Piece of Memory

When you land in such a big city for the very first time, be ready to run into trouble, especially when you came by train a certain morning of late September, and your end stop is a crowded rowdy station full of travelers crossing and crisscrossing the platforms like a giant living lacework.

As for you, you are in no hurry to get out because you have no specific destination. You can hence take all your time, since your aim is to randomly wander through this city that you want to visit and which is said to be very large, warm and giving, but also sorely oppressive.

Your one and only luggage is a shoulder bag that for now is lying on the ground at your feet as you are seated aside to better keep watching with fun the hectic movement of all those flows of people either leaving or just coming. You are relaxing on your seat all the while looking the comic opera played by many white-collar workers running in suit in tie and holding tight their briefcases, trying to catch a train that is already drawing away. Breathless, they sit on a bench and loosen their tie. They wipe their sweaty foreheads down, and seem to be whispering “More haste, less speed…”

Once the peak hours are over and before another train pulls into the station, you enjoy this peaceful atmosphere of calm before the storm. As for you, well it looks like you are still sitting there, as if you were waiting for somebody whose train would be late. You obviously are a stranger to this town, given your general attitude showing indecision and reflection, so clearly indicating that you are not a local and that you fixed no specific destination yet.

For sure this can’t have escaped some shrewd eyes on the lookout for people like you. There’s for instance this newsboy who comes to see you with the latest newspapers; or this woman carrying a baby who tries to sell you tissues and cigarettes by the unit; this disabled person who stops you to beg some money, crying over you his poor condition and life so you feel pity; or yet this glue sniffer with a crazed look smiling at the wind in the crowd, fumbling for words that could be something like “have a nice trip!”. Not to forget this merry wino, doddering and stinking out meths, who is shouting with a twangy voice to whoever might hear him “Long live the king” again and again. As for the ever-present bootblack, his eyes were fixed, surprise, surprise, on your barely dusty shoes, while he is drawing you over to give them a good brush. Demonstrating a rather cheeky insistence, he grabs straightaway your foot to nimbly slip it over his shoeshine box.

You watch the train station clock, and it’s already noon, and you are still in there. But at this very time, someone comes to you all smiles and self-confidence, to introduce himself as a taxi driver and to offer his services for driving you wherever you wanted to go. Not without a little bit of hesitation, you finally answer that actually, you were about to leave. The thing is that you have absolutely no idea about where to go, not yet. So, you tell him that you’d give it a go for a city roundtrip, why not. He thinks you are a tourist, even if you don’t look like one, not at all. He switches language to French and informs you by the way that he speaks three languages, that he knows the best places in town whether be bazaars, restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and even day clubs if ever you wanted to. In short, everywhere you’d like to go and everything you’d like to do, absolutely everything. Crudely winking at you, he thought it right to add that his motto has always been “to serve at best the client”. As you don’t express that much interest, he understands that he is missing the mark, and adopts a new approach. Therefore, so as to make you comfortable, he says that he is gentlefolk from a good family, a good husband, a good father and a good Muslim daily saying his prayers. Moreover, as he is a honest man, his services would be at the lowest price for me and of course, without using the taximeter.

You’re finally okay to follow him but once about to stand up, you realize all of a sudden that your shoulder bag is no longer at your feet. Well that is a surprise… damned shoe-shine boy! If only you could grab him by the scruff of the neck!

As a matter of fact, this funny story I’m telling you did well and truly happened to me. I was just turning up from Fes where I was living a quiet life and I landed in Casablanca for the very first time in the early seventies. So as to give a fresh momentum to my painting activities, my aim was to start a brand-new life in the big city hosting the biggest art centers. These times were buzzing with such intense creativity that someday I’d like to pay tribute to, but this will be a whole new world.

Baffled and relieved of my only luggage, I was the only one to blame though I couldn’t help feeling sorry for myself. In a moment of weakness I really thought that this misfortune happening to me from the outset could be nothing but a foreboding sign. Just try to step in my shoes, what was I supposed to do after going through such a bad spell? The only clue rattling around my head was to jump in the next train back home and leave at once that unwelcoming city refusing to receive me. I couldn’t stay any way in a town where I ought to ceaselessly be on the look-out, and all the time keeping eyes wide open not to be fooled.

As he heard me cursing, the taxi driver – let’s call him Brahim – forgot it all about his French and his “perfect” other languages, to throw at my face with pity that I would better keep away from this inclement town. Then, with a manly and pure accent of Casablanca, he ended joking “watta koulbouk amskine!” (You’ve been got there, poor you!). At that time, the subtleties of the slang used in the big town were beyond my grasp, thus I innocently answered that it would be all right for me, as my wallet was safe in my pocket. That for sure made him step back as he was about to leave, at least he still had a chance to be paid for a ride. As I found the guy funny and easygoing, we weren’t long to make friends.

So here is my good fellow Brahim who was going to look after me and take things in hands. Helpful and kind, he drove me away from this place where I have been scammed, when all I wanted was to clean my shoes. I followed him, why not after all, I was resigned and jaded with a quite crabby mood. Isn’t it true that such moments of stress are those which make you oversensitive? Especially as besides my personal belongings, I lost with the bag all the drawing material that I intended to use for illustrating my travel diary.

The problem is that an artist without his tools is like a bird with no wings, I was feeling just the same way.

I tried to explain to Brahim how much important was art to me, and he tried to cheer me up by telling me about his middle school years and his art teacher. He contained his pride while informing me that he knew Chaïbia “very well”, describing the naïve-art paintings of her that he could see. He joked about himself, saying that if ever he had a go at painting he could do the same and even better. Obviously he was happy to be dealing with an artist, and he was even willing to drive me and stay with me all day long if needed.

He played the role of a real tourist guide, and told me about a certain part of the city where I could find all what I needed, a pretty catching area full of foreign visitors and lovers of traditional crafts and bazaar articles. But not only, as the place was also well known for hosting the best Arabic-speaking publishers and bookshops wholly dedicated to the Islamic culture.

No time left to react and here I am, dragged into a ride which was going to lead me to this famous place Brahim told me about and that I had never heard of before.

Look, here we are, at the Habous”. That was the declaration of my taxi driver at a certain point of the city, once he stopped and while getting out of the car, flowingly waving his hand like a real guide would have done with a VIP tourist.

Amazed by the general atmosphere, I was dawdling on his heels. He was taking long strides, but thanks to his tall stature, his shaved head and big mustache, I could easily spot him from far away in the bustling crowd of passers-by. From time to time, I was even totally stopping here and there in front of a special architectural element to admire either the details of a carving or the grace of a headwork. Once my guide noticed my goings-on, he slowed down and started speaking in an undertone about real estate business and all of its goldmine opportunities. Seriously, did he think that I was interested in renting or maybe even buying a house? Especially since I did express out loud my regrets as for not having the chance to visit the inside of a special house, to look through some of the windows or to reach this or that rooftop… Using quite supporting arguments, he insisted on his expertise in terms of real estate, in lease premiums, and he added that speaking of tricks and guiles, he knows a fair bit about.

But I was so awestruck by the amazing surroundings blowing my eyes away that I heard nothing of what he was saying. As well, I was no longer thinking of my morning loss which was haunting me all the hours before. Now I was feeling I was someone else, seized by a new sensation which cleared up all the sad doubts that were highly affecting my mood. What I wanted now was to take my time in order to visit all these wonders on my own. I wanted nobody to hurry me and ground me for lingering over, or complaining about my slow walking. Not even Brahim, though being my very kind guide, who shamelessly wanted me to swallow his snares about his supposed real-estate gold deals. A good taxi man must be quick-witted, and he was. He felt I was not comfortable with him speaking of that topic, so he changed the subject by telling me that he wouldn’t say no to other rides that day, and if I no longer needed his services, maybe he could leave.

No sooner said than done, and here I am all by myself, carried away by a wonderful dream, and my only concern for now is to deeply imprint my mind with this atmosphere sharpening my senses and recalling me these lovely moments that I’ll forever cherish, when I was used to settle my easel in one of the snaking alleys going up and down through the unforgettable medina of Fez. But for now it was a real feast for the eyes everywhere and I was eager to take it all in, so as to brighten up my mind with the inviting ambiance reigning supreme on every street and crowding every corner of these streets. And obviously, the same goes for the warm attitude of people full of courtesy and good manners that only an authentic and God-loving culture can provide.

I wanted to follow the so-slow race of the sun through the golden skies offered by this nice end of autumn. A special radiance was sparkling over the constructions, built on an inspiring human scale and totally in harmony with the arched wide openings which are smartly highlighted by impressive pared-down decorations.

I also wanted to marvel to my heart contents while looking at this wonderful light playing a dual game between semi-darkness and half-light, a magical extravaganza that only art lovers can plainly seize. But most of all, I wanted to set down on paper the record of these amazing light effects that were at the same time bedazzling and exciting me, besides stirring up so much my itching to paint.

It took me a while before I left the magic Habous, till the twilight call to prayer suddenly breaking through my bubble of sweet bliss which froze time for me by numbing my thoughts. I was in the ideal mindset for contemplation and deep faith, a condition leading me at upraising my mind so that the intensity of a new mental picture blends into the depth of a deed of piety and charity.

This very deed which was questioning me but at the same time providing me a sweet and cheering confidence as for the prewritten rules of destiny that no one can change.

Next morning, I left early the hotel Brahim recommended me prior to deftly ditch me and leave me by myself to my lazy rambling.

My brand-new shoulder bag full up with the painting material I bought the day before, I was willing to walk alone across the streets where I already laid the groundwork the day before. I couldn’t wait for experiencing again the stunning sensations that I felt yesterday. But I was prepared this time, I was decided to live every moment with full intensity through drawing and painting, I wanted to leave a permanent trace, and flag this day that I always recall, and always will, with a special tenderness.

All around, absolutely everything I was looking at was worth painting, such as the majestic curves of these archways firmly surrounding the large paths crossed by a restless crowd, or yet these slender colonnades gracefully standing up to count out the mellow pace of the sun through the shaded areas tainted ocher and golden tones. And this honey-color shadow was perfectly reflected on the white washed walls through a range of delicate purplish-blue tones that only the watercolor transparency might help reproducing at best.

Away from the crowded shopping streets, you can find calm alleys barely counting a few passers-by, and from time to time, a gang of kids playfully talking and laughing out loud. You see houses with closed doors, and if you look up you see those cute small windows slightly open though showing nothing, unless you take a blind guess about the warmth of the families’ homes and their indoors privacy.

The small shops are overflowing with traditional clothes. The bazaars are showcasing a plethora of goods made of copper or leather, next to multicolored pieces of pottery, bright-colored carpets, plus a million and one kinds of items that tourists are fond of. Not to forget the so many shopkeepers who were challenging their voices by shouting out to any potential customer, with wide welcoming hand waves and eyes wide open, and with a friendly behavior to sell their stuff.

All I was seeing was blowing me away and everything was thrilling me. Not feeling these stunning sensations means to me being blind or at least really sluggish.

And all the while enjoying the authenticity of this so folkloric place, fascinating like no other to my eyes, I couldn’t help scanning the architecture details. Each time I was stunned by the creative cleverness behind the constructions and the secret of their harmony. Hey, if only I could have a urban planner by my side, any architect or builder, someone to help me out giving meaning to all the unanswered questions urging me from all sides.

Too many questions were popping up on and on in my head, as for instance what were the construction steps for this outstanding urban complex, designed as a medina in all its splendor, authenticity and character? Who could be the developer of such a lovely place? What were his reasons for deciding to launch such a great-scale project, and why deciding to do it this way, why constructing a town over a basin location?

As for the frequent use of this porous stone that you can notice everywhere, would it be some possible kind of pattern to convey the uniqueness of a method or the distinctiveness of a concept? And this concept could have totally determined the so characteristic style of the two big mosques towered over by impressive minarets. The minaret of the first mosque is of befitting shape and refined headwork, nobly overlooking the hustle and bustle of a happy-go-lucky crowd. Further away, that of the other mosque is remarkably casting its profile up to the clouds, like a giant “Alif”, like a symbol of faith rallying the local community members through a sense of common belonging and a same ethical code.

As well, I had to pay attention to the positioning of the ever-changing daylight moving inside and outside the constructions. I couldn’t believe how perfect the interrelation was between the contrasting areas of light and shadow, and how ideal their combination was. Well if this creative result is not the compelling expression of insightful and forward-thinking great minds, then what would it be? Then again what was the secret ruling the right proportions of the constructed areas and the empty ones? How could they reach this just perfect balance between the “neither more nor less” which is the gold standard when it comes to wisdom and the ideal goal when it comes to great art?

As for the just right distribution of the shady spaces, were these havens of peace dedicated at bringing back to mind the smell of a gone authenticity? Maybe because of that very authenticity, people were concerned by the importance of a protecting shadow in these ancient times when the daily life was also a spiritual journey.

I was convinced that somewhere, there must be some documents and written notes that I could study so as I can answer my need to know and understand the reasons making me first like it a little bit, then love it a little bit more, and much more. I promised myself that as soon as possible, I shall go all the way with my investigations, and I’ll finally answer all of my questionings, and I’ll end clearing my doubts up.

At the time being, my area of research was limited at the only storekeepers, mainly those whose age and outer attitude made me believe they belong to the keepers of the collective memory. I thought they were the ones to get me the information I was seeking for, but all that I got from them left me wanting more.

Even so, from the snippets of information I gathered here and there, I happened to learn that the construction works of this urban-development masterpiece were carried out by some French architects among whom Henri Prost. I also know now that the construction site started in 1918 back to the time of the French protectorate and that it ended in 1955, on the brink of the Moroccan independence.

Bottom of the line, may I share my first impression with you. To me, Casablanca is a big city that is randomly sprawling, fast growing in size and height. And despite the capricious whims of the past times and those of the modern times, a frail heart keeps on beating the tempo of a rich culture and a strong identity. And at the meantime, the after-effects of an uncontrolled hyper urbanization are slowly but surely erasing any hindrance that resists the fast pace of its constructions or gets in its way.

By the way, I have to wander off the subject as I have to analyze a quite complex and unclear reality. I want to talk about the awareness that we have of our history, about the interest that we express to our legacy and about our duty to protect and transmit the treasures we inherited from the past.

Well, “Change with the times” is for sure a wise common saying. But what meaning can we give to development without beating the drums of history for our yesterdays and yesteryears times? And what future can we expect without the persistence of a shrewdly saved memory? That of the Habous must certainly be preserved, but also that of Casablanca and everywhere all over Morocco, a country which is actually meeting the modern-times challenge of progress and evolution.

I have a question to ask, and it goes for me and for you my fellow Moroccan citizens who are preparing for tomorrow today. How do we manage to deal with the trials and tribulations of our past, I mean those left by the French protectorate period?

Obviously, the question goes far beyond the scope of my reasoning, but altogether we might find out the way to trigger a thorough debate around this key question. Who knows, we might uncover some flaws which might explain the reason why our relation to our memory has always been so complicated.

As for me, the more I think the more I wonder where the truth is. Either all this trouble stems from an alarming lack of awareness that has definitively determined our way of thinking till reaching absurdity and our way of seeing till blindness; or maybe it’s all about a strong will to erase all traces and thus wipe out this past experience from our memory, presuming that the future will happen anyway even though with a missing starting point. Or yet, it might be a sickness, because we all have this easy-going amnesic tendency? And if that’s the case, there must be for sure some ad-hoc treatments, and maybe why not a magic potion to heal all the ills.

I already stated it, there were all over the place so many wonders overpowering the senses and fascinating the mind. From the sunrise to the sunset, I tracked the secrets of these awesome treats to my eyes because I badly wanted to use my painter’s tools for honoring the splendor of this heritage of the past, which keeps on daring modernity with so much panache.

From time to time, I happened to stop for a while right in the middle of a crowded and busy street, whenever I spotted a viewpoint from where I should grasp at best the pace of people and things all around me. Each time I stopped, I was having the same feeling that all this hustle was turning around me, as if I turned to be the human pivot of a giant merry-go-round. I was letting the ambiance bewitching me till my head spins, till the forms start toning down and their outlines start softening, so that the colors ended overlaying and spreading out as if by magic, blithely playing with the shimmering effects of patchy light rays.

My perception of reality started blurring. The only persisting after-effect was a strewed picture, dazzling me and making me blink to tears, to the point my senses reach this so-clear vision forecasting that you are ready, that you are excited and that here it comes, this deep desire to keep record of your inner vision, to create a tangible trace for fixing in time and space a relivable instant emotion and for sharing it with others.

Now tell me, have your eyes ever been exposed to the power of such a vision? Just try it, and you’ll be seeing by yourself that indeed the forms will crumble till losing consistency, and that the colors will get disordered till reversing their thrilling effects.

The painter’s look is pretty much the same, an astonished look, vibrant of emotion and tainted of syncretism. If ever you happen to live such an experience, and you live it with all your might, well you realize that your perception of things will deeply improve and that another way of looking the world shall greatly enhance everything you see around.

If what I am saying lacks clarity, maybe I could rephrase my reasoning in other words. Firstly, you see something, then you feel an emotion and finally you end thinking about what you saw and what you felt. So the steps are a look, an emotion, a thought. But then again, to bring things full circle, this thought must be fully seen, in a pure philosophical sense. And this is an indisputable truth when it comes to art painting, to all kinds of visible representation arts, and in a roundabout way, it goes as well for the art of architecture and its by-sectors doing the indoors and outdoors finishing works.

Speaking of which, what about gathering all of us artists, architects, urban planners, style lovers and some committed eggheads. What if we focused hand in hand on the core of the concept I briefly stated, that is to say “a thought you can see”. Couldn’t we dig deeper this double-meaning issue? Well we should, inasmuch as our aim is to better understand the logic that rules the creative process according to the exact way it has to be.

To me, if not this ‘truly true truth’, there can be no artistic vision, just a flighty and sadly listless look.

To think that stating all of this is the result of the bad experience I went through this bittersweet day I told you about. I’ll always remember that day of self-disclosure when my look scattered into small pieces so that a new sensation finally appears, stemming from the quite disturbing effect of a simple optical illusion. At once and for good, my approach to art shifted from the convenient certainty of a ready-made figurative art, to a ceaseless quest for absolute perfection. My unending quest is barely starting, but I can already foresee my path, an endless maze endlessly interlacing and intertwining so much that never, ever, there will be any hope for a way out.

Anyway, why would I look for a way out when actually I’m entirely at ease with my uncertainties and my limits? Whereas my certainty is that I am forever desperately in love with an impossible ideal, and I do keep my mind wide open so I can be questioning any time my destiny.

And now here I am, about to live a moment I have been expecting for so many years, that is to say paying a lively tribute to the Habous Quarter, the place I feel a special affection for. Wasn’t it of good omen to me, when I was looking in bewilderment for foreign skies, and somehow or other, weren’t its wonders that made of me a foster son of Casablanca?

A son of Casablanca indeed, a real “Casawi” in every sense of the word, so that I can bluntly claim with emotion and nostalgia that back in time it was exactly here in the Habous that I had to have a love affair from then on with the town my heart goes to, Casablanca.

Do you remember that early morning I told you about, when I was in the crowded hall of that station? I was down in the damps and quite depressed, especially when I got robbed. I was even about to jump in the next train back home. But somehow my lucky star decided otherwise, I call it “Baraka”.

There is no way I can erase from my memory the force of these moments, when my emotion was at a fever pitch and my mind was totally bewitched by the splendor of this blessed place. And that utmost moment happened at twilight, when I knew instinctively I was embracing my destiny. And may I say a happy destiny full of art, passion and pride.

Then one day, I was finally done with my sketches, my watercolor-enhanced drawings and some snaps that I could use later for completing a series of artworks, now belonging to some art lovers or are part of banking institutions collections. Up to now, each time I have a chance to see again whichever of my paintings, I just can’t help feeling the same deep emotion clouding my eyes.

And lately, forty years and a bit after the morning misfortune that started it all, I had a pang of emotion the day I fell on some misplaced sketchbook loose sheets, together with some old study notes in a sadly pitiful condition, and my old shoulder bag just like a blast from the past!

When I have to, I mostly travel by train. To date, I still can’t help cursing all of the shoeshine boys’ mob family which is always rife in the stations, and I’m afraid I always will.Sometimes I’m buddy-buddy with the driver of the taxi I’m in, but I never saw Brahim again, I never got the chance to hug him and tell him I never forgot that one day he saved my day.

I think it’s time for me to end my inner monologue, a maybe too personal one, thus no need to say more. But how could I possibly answer a call, and moreover a call made of light, and not getting emotional at the same time, not falling into a subjective and fully assumed individual approach? And guess what, I know and you know you ought to forgive me for that, simply because little bit I knew that my destiny decided it like that and not otherwise.

Casablanca, February 4th, 2015
Abdelkébir Rabi’
Moroccan Painter

Guest at the first MAP Cultural Forum

Moroccan painter Abdelkébir Rabi’ Guest speaker at the first Cultural Forum organized by the MAP, in Rabat

“Shadow in Painting”,
January 21st, 2016

The Moroccan Press Agency (MAP) organized on January 21stof 2016 a new series of cultural meetings, with the Moroccan painter, Abdelkébir Rabi‘ as first guest.

“Shadow in Painting” was the topic of this first Cultural Forum of the MAP.

Token of Shadow (Conference)

Token of Shadow (Conference)

Token of Shadow (Conference)

All of you who are here, thank you for coming, I am so glad and proud to have you gathered around. You being here means a lot to me, but it mainly means that you call out for some clarification about an artistic issue. I guess that you expect me to make it at least relevant, for lack of fully answering the question.

Maybe because you assume, rightly or wrongly, that you do not have the same insight than an artist, and that, so it seems, he has a tangible knowledge stemming from the backgrounds of his work of creation which he is supposed to be mastering.

Well here I am, faced with your expectation. How do I do to meet this challenge?

And as you can easily imagine, this very question makes me feel quite nervous.

The reason is simple, and so as to temper a little bit your expectations, may I kindly remind you that I am no theorist, and even less a speaker. That being said, please let me thank you for understanding my anxiety and accepting my limits.

Because first and foremost, I am a painter; though sometimes, I like writing as well. As I do consider that both thinking and writing lead us at questioning the process of creation in its deep nub, questioning it till looking at the bigger picture, then raising it up to our mind so as to make it “sayable”.

But you also may run the risk of giving in to the stultifying temptation of intention; this intention which is stated according to a predetermined logic and to the detriment of a rash and creative impetus, which primal nature is to defy and foil any preconceived idea.

Wherefrom the obvious weakness of this kind of writing and speaking, even if it is right and  proper, when it comes to the reality of the artistic work.

Of course I shall rely on your caring support and your kindness to better grasp my doubts and cover up my missteps.

But I am totally confident in the fact that, whether be its nature or extent, the process of creation often sounds like a dream, like a fantasy, that is to say a personal matter.

For sure the process of creation is a private matter. I can claim it straightaway I can state it loud and clear. I can even go further because I really think that insomuch as the artist is truly aware of this fact, it could greatly help him at making the most effective power of his hesitations, doubts and weaknesses.

For the reason that inasmuch as he is deeply willing to stay a honest-to-goodness man through his deeds and words, he can nothing but let the others being the same way; given that truth can’t be truly trueif not fully mutual and two-way shared.

That being said and excluding any uncertainty, will you please allow me inviting you at leaving aside all of your preconceptions so we can tackle together the question of shadow in painting. This concept is so much important to me that I felt the need to name it, wherefrom “STATE OF SHADOW”, a choice redolent of its designation.

Begging the question of shadow in painting does mean dealing with an issue that branches out in so many questions. Indeed, this issue pertains to the hard-to-grasp things, the secret and scaring ones, but it can totally open on a symbolic reality made of positive and constructive values.

It concerns first and foremost our capacity of visual perception, as we grasp and understand what we see around us mainly through our eyes, not only the inner reality of what we look at, but also all of the emotional reality.

That being so, when it comes to deal with a topic as tricky as this one, you got to get used to deal with confusion and trouble, as it cannot be all clear to lend itself to a proven and flawless approach.

In this case, the question is about a cryptic reality, full of meaning and giving way to any possible interpretation, a reality which determines the basis of our insight, and which contributes at structuring our thoughts by opening them on the infinite, and yet indefinite, horizons of the imaginary world.

So we do have here an endless field of investigation which involves multiple skills and great expertise, a field that has forever been fascinating and questioning the Man’s mind and conscience.

I am totally aware of the intricacy of this issue, of its relations to what keeps shaking my thoughts and driving my artistic approach. I just keep on groping my way along in the dark mazes of shadow where so much passions and so many presumptions are sprouting while awaiting some light.

Although cautious and still gun-shy, I try to tackle my questioning head-on, to transpose it where I am the most comfortable and quite at ease, that is to say my background experience.

When we look at an artwork, we usually do not wonder about the process of its creation. We take it as a foregone conclusion, as an end result that totally blots out the starting point and the many steps of its creation. And we don’t even mind to wonder how this piece of art came here, from where it came or why it is the way it is. The only thing we see is the artwork coming out as if by magic and nothing but the artwork. This is what the general public will remind, nothing more.

But then again, if we try to redo in our head the same process than the one which led to the completion of the artwork as it is, we would seize much better the difficult position of the artist in the heat of the moment, and we would truly understand that the final result, which is in plain view for everyone, is actually nothing but a remote possibility among millions of others, and that it could have been totally otherwise.

In a few words, what would be the meaning of any answer if not triggered by a prior question? What would be the pertinence of a solution that disregards the problem it has been solving? And what is worth a destination if the journey is not full of twists and turns? Let’s think about that!

From a symbolic viewpoint, a pure full light is of absolute value. Shedding its own light on itself, it casts only on what the eye cannot or must not see. It seems that it pertains much more to the spiritual, the timeless world rather than to that of the tangible reality. Whereas physically, looking at such a direct light with no shield can be quite harmful to the eye. Besides being painful, direct full light burns down the sight system and leads at ending sadly in looking though seeing nothing. But thanks to the shadow provided and directed by the light, the sight sense is protected and can keep its sharpness of vision which is a lifesaving necessity.

For the best as for the worst, the Man has since ever been living and dealing with the unsettled and unsteady reality of shadow. And because it is full of mystery and as it fuels our souls’ turmoil, shadow keeps on creating the just perfect breeding ground for our dreams and our fantasy.

The concept of shadow has been studied, investigated and analyzed from every possible angle. For some, shadow goes together with darkness and is filled with evil connotations. For others, shadow is source of peace, calm and abandonment, the ideal conditions for meditation and contemplation. Its spiritual, symbolic and aesthetic side has always been a determining factor as for the specific features of any culture. Sometimes fascinating, sometimes disturbing, shadow is always around. It did strongly imprint the human minds and feelings, all the while ceaselessly representing a basic principle of creation and inspiration for the visual arts.

In the everyday life of Men, being tailed by shadow and tailing it everywhere comes down to acknowledge its permanence in their existence; it means exposing the hidden side of their being and thus being able to uncover the deepest stirs of their souls. And as a matter of fact, visual and spatial arts are the best way to make the shadow effects strongly marked and with a quite important part, though always shrouded in mystery.

Any artistic activity producing an artwork which purpose is to catch the eye, to give it a special kind of sight that connects the senses and involves the mind, this work will be neither productive nor truly creative if not perfectly mastering the changing effects of shadow. This rule applies since the dawn of times, since the very first graffiti skillfully drawn on the walls of dark caves during those dark and early prehistoric times. One way or another, this age-long art since ever fascinating the humankind, doesn’t it always bring back somehow to a hazy and repressed expression for a special state of shadow?

For instance, if for an architect the art of construction consists in bordering an area to structure an empty space in an efficient manner and in proportion, his creative logic and his talent shall be put to the test while dealing with the thorny distribution of the shadow effects.

As for the sculptor, who would he be if not his amazing skills and ability for taming the shifting and capricious effects of shadow? These unpretentious effects are those who really mold the shapes, define the contours, draw the details, and fix the whole by giving an expression and a meaning to a raw and shapeless material.

Then again, what if we think about the role of shadow on stages whether be for theaters or show business? Insofar as the shadow is properly distributed, isn’t it a key factor when it comes to the originality of what is given to see?

And whatever be the reason, as soon as it comes to take a given space away from the laws of reality, those laws ruling all commonplaces, then this space is often tainted shadow. Places of worship or dens of iniquity, close or isolated places whether private or public, all of these places, delimited and opposed to the commonplaces of the so-called reality, withdraw into themselves to create a quite particular atmosphere.

These pieces of spaces belonging to the inside, in their opposition to those of the outside, from where would they draw their singularity, if not from the infinite number of combinations between half-light and semi-darkness.

Another field of depiction:

Talking about the importance of shadow in photographic and cinematographic art means entering into a field where the part of shadow and its effects are measured up by the specificity of this special technique used for image production. Speaking of which, do we really need to underline the importance of the lighting levels and the efficiency of their effects; these effects which turn the shadow into a prolific crucible for this kind of art using high-tech methods so as to set up and structure the best balance between the parts that are clearing and those that are darkening.

As for the ‘Black and White’ effect and once it reaches the top art level, where to seize its deep nature and its mystery if not from the inner features of its shadowed areas?

Let’s talk about painting now, which even so is supposed to be the pivotal point of my reasoning. What would be its main reason to be if not dealing with strokes of shades?

Not that I want to retrace the story of shadow in painting, this is neither my intention nor my scope of competence, but I can totally follow up on the legend that situated the origin of art painting in the West, as from this very day a Greek young lady drew the contours of her truelove’s shadow thrown on a wall before he left, so as to capture forever his outline and thusly defy the absence of her beloved missing one.

Long before the Greeks, so it seems that the Egyptians would have been the first people to try painting by using shadow effects. In those ancient times, it was considered as being the soul itself, before being considered later as its mirror image. The outlines did not directly draw the models’ body, but were rather made of shadow effects which, through their fixity, were giving meaning to absence so as to ward off death. In its very principle, wasn’t it mainly mournful, this art of those early ages?

The weird thing about the style that has always been typical of the Egyptian art is the strange rule determining the characters’ depiction. Indeed, the faces and feet are always represented in profile whereas the shoulders are always in front view.

An educated guess would be that this persisting representation of profiles, so precise and subtle, would be based on a prior work of tracing over a human side-on shadow.

Among the entire Egyptian painting legacy, as prolific as it can be, the one and only exception that proves the rule is that of two female musicians represented full face.

Who can claim not being fascinated by the baffling force of the stunning works produced by the great classical masters of chiaroscuro? Who has never been captivated by the surprising boldness of Caravaggio’s work or the impressive features of Rembrandt’s one?

This breathtaking art is certainly a resounding praise and a solemn celebration of the shadow and its mysteries. It was, it is and it always will be a major reference in the history of art, besides remaining at the top of the world artistic production.

Moving on to romanticism too, how can we blot out the part of shadow and the attraction force of the mysteries that surround it? This new insight stemming from an innovative approach did renew the styles of expression and thought by rejecting the former guiding rules inherited from an exacting academicism. All you have to do is to remind the dramatic artwork of Goya, the poetic and delicate one of Corot, or the mesmerizing wash drawings of Victor Hugo, to admit that you have to be questioning the mysteries of shadow so as to fully open the imaginary world on a prolific and creative mindset, so that painting art could break free from the strangleholds of a pedantic and restrictive mannerism.

As for Eugene Delacroix, true to himself and to his romantic ardor, he did deeply upset the concept of shadow by subjecting it to the law of the matching contrasts. And this caused a breach in the opacity of the dark, so that the color can step into for dropping off its sparkle through the dark. This was the coming of Impressionism.

Insomuch as the chiaroscuro was one of the main techniques used in the art of painting for a long time, one of the main changes brought by the Impressionist revolution was for sure the brightening up of the painters’ color palette, going so far as to totally exclude the black color from the chromatic range.

Thusly, by experiencing different kinds of shadow effects and by distorting the forms, this new outlook started to cloud the logic which was prevailing throughout the long history of art. Every single thing giving consistency and structuring the space was distorted in order to highlight and make shine the changing effects of the light waves. This was the force driving the originality of this new movement, but this was its weakness at the same time.

Though innovative and bold, this kind of art triggered strong reactions which opened up new possibilities for the art of painting. But some great talents did not follow the trend, to quote only Manet, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin or Van Gogh. They countered the new movement by highlighting the magnificence of the dark shadowed strokes, thus returning to the drawing all the strength which first made all its power. That was the case for the Expressionists and other followers, including the Cubists who for sure were among the most fervent and stubborn activators.

The consequences of the innovations introduced by the Cubism did open unexpected ways and were going to lead at the developing of a previously unseen and resolutely modern art.

Often in unusual forms, the thorny question of shadow obsessed the mind of successive generations as of the early stage of surrealism till informal art. Many gifted personalities, including Malevich, Giacometti, Kline, Motherwell, Hartung, Soulages, Serra, followed more recently by Longo, Wool and Yan Pei-Ming, all these artists and a lot of their peers, totally fascinated by the dark color and its so many variations, didn’t they force the shadow painting to the extremes? Didn’t they make of the black the ultimate color? The “beyond the black”, so they say, for that the blackness rises differently to the eye looking at the artwork? An exaltation of the power of darkness and a clear radiance of its great secrecy…

Going beyond the beaten paths, some strange approaches drove the shadow concept till the extremes to give it credit and a brand-new sense, to quote only that of the pioneer and resolute Marcel Duchamp, or later after those of Andy Warhol and Joseph Beuys.

The thorny issue of shadow in painting cannot be limited to the only turmoil that prevailed in the West, and which effect and extent are acknowledged worldwide.

What to say for instance about the pictorial art of the Far East? Is there better artistic tool than the magical effects of the black ink to give shadow its marvelous plastic quality that lifts the mind up and sharpens the senses? The well-chosen name of Indian ink, masterfully spreading over these backgrounds of paper whose felt-like flatness makes the empty spaces finely vibrate.

With a lot of verve, the Japanese writer Junichirô Tanizaki developed his insightful reasoning as for his own idea of beauty in his famous book, “In Praise of Shadows”. Using simple and sharp words, he describes the shadow as being a key element of the Far Eastern culture. He wrote: “We, Easterner people [ … ], therefore, we have no negative feelings at all for darkness, we do accept what we can’t fight. If light is dull, then so be it! And even odder, we sink with delight into the darkness and we do uncover this peculiar beauty proper to its nature.” Later below, he commented: “I think that beauty is no essence in and of itself, but rather a certain art of drawing shadows, a game played between light and darkness as the result of juxtaposing diverse substances. Just like a glow-in-the-dark stone shining through the night but losing its precious-stone splendor at daylight, beauty would have no reason for being if not thanks to shadow effects”.

So, this is where things stand concerning the thorny question of shadow. Far be it from me to have answered it, my words can nothing but widen it more and more because of the domino-effect reasoning. But posing this question means being seeking for a certain light, the other light. It means answering an ideal calling us out to lead us upwards towards a perfect and wholesome condition. Because doesn’t our life give us the deep feeling of mingling totally in a numinous merger with the transcendent condition of light and shadow through its intrinsic relation with the universe?

And to wrap it up, all of these last-generation innovations of today, using electric power and laser tools to lighten ranges of vision either fussily delimited or widely floodlit, don’t they unexpectedly show a new reality?… another reality that would lead us at changing our perception of time and space, by turning our landmarks upside down and by setting up another state of being where shadow might forget its true meaning.

And now I shall conclude by telling you the answer of a dear friend of mine who, while we were talking of my questionings about shadow, told me the story of a playlet of which I remind the only title: The Man who Lost his Shadow.

So… watch out not to lose your shadow.

(Rabat, May 21st, 2016)

Tolerance

Tolerance

Tolerance

« L’art de la tolérance », Bab Rouah Galerie, Rabat, exhibition, 21 june – 31 july 2016.

Involving artists in a project of itinerant exhibitions, on the subject of tolerance, is, on the one hand, to permit them to reflect on this notion which has eminently obvious moral, political and social aspects, and on the other hand, to give them the opportunity to question the cruel aspects of their experienced reality. Such a cruel reality that never ceases to advocate hatred, so that ‘blind violence’, that is becoming increasingly threatening, comes to annihilate all hope for peace and coexistence.
If we want to better understand this complex topic, would it not be judicious to approach it in a manner that brings it close to the principle which, essentially, determines the process of creation? The same principle guides the artistic act and establishes the notion of balance, of unity and harmony from an eloquent relation between elements that are supposed to be dissimilar, discordant and antinomic, at the beginning.
That being said, if we acknowledge that an authentic artwork cannot be taken for granted, we can easily agree that the creative action necessarily starts with a dilemma. Specifically, the dilemma is to cause discordant elements to overlap and harmonize with each other, so that their merging creates the notion whereby otherness becomes a productive potentiality, propitious to the spirit of creation.
In the end, it amounts to the premise that the spirit of creation, in its profound nature, can only be a spirit of junction, of rapprochement and conciliation. Where do we place the power of artistic expression, if not in the level of judicious manipulation of contrasting effects and complementary relationships that structure the work and give it value and consistency? Where do we look for the meaning of complementarity and balance, if not through a mastered reciprocation, despite the inevitably discordant nature of the artistic project’s constituents? How can creative thought manifest itself, if it were not for its capacity to establish beyond any difference, this particular state of convergence?
This is what the notion of tolerance seems to be when assimilated to the notion that governs the foundations of art, to elevate the mind and subjugate the senses. It is a notion that fully celebrates life, and that makes of the sublimation of contrasts, of disparities and diversities, a springboard to the ideals of peace, love, and sharing, for a fair world enamored of the best for mankind.
Casablanca, May 17, 2016

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