Following the catastrophic earthquake in Morocco on 8 September, museums and other art organisations in the country have embarked on initiatives to help with recovery, while those that were damaged have begun to rebuild.
The earthquake struck the High Atlas mountains, killing nearly 3,000 people, injuring thousands more and destroying more than 50,000 homes, according to figures published by the BBC. Important heritage sites were also damaged, including the Tinmel mosque in the mountains—reportedly almost destroyed—and the ancient Jewish quarter in Marrakech.
In a speech on 21 November, Eric Falt, the regional director of the Unesco Office for the Maghreb, said that Unesco was ready to work with the Moroccan government to recover “the tangible and intangible elements destroyed last September by placing culture and education at the heart of the process”. No specific plans have been announced at the time of writing, but in his speech Falt pointed to the work Unesco had done in the aftermath of earthquakes in Iran, Nepal, Turkey and Syria, including producing detailed reports on destruction and organising training programmes for local restoration engineers.
Mehdi Qotbi, the director of the National Foundation of Museums (NFM) in Morocco, tells The Art Newspaper that within its network, three museums—the Dar El Bacha Museum of Confluences; the Dar Si Saïd Carpet and Weaving Museum; and the Jamaâ el-Fna Museum of Intangible Heritage—were affected by the disaster, all of them in Marrakech. The epicentre of the quake was around 70km southwest of the city. The damage included “structural cracks in the walls and potential threats of collapse. Dar Si Saïd, in particular, suffered in its reserves. Jamaâ el-Fna was the least affected by the earthquake, but [the museum] still incurred damages requiring immediate intervention”, Qotbi says.
In response to this damage, the global fund Aliph Foundation provided a package of $1.2m to help with reconstruction. “The donation has been strategically allocated, following the recommendations of specialists and experts who have carefully assessed the condition of the three museums and provided a detailed diagnosis for each space and necessary intervention,” Qotbi says.
Artists have also been directly affected by the disaster. M’barek Bouhchichi, based in the town of Tahnaout near the foot of the Atlas mountains, tells The Art Newspaper that he returned from a trip to Casablanca to find his studio severely damaged. “My house is still standing, but my workshop, just a few steps away, is badly damaged. I couldn't get there.” He says he is looking for another studio.
Bouhchichi says that for many in more remote regions, the consequences have been particularly serious. “After Tahnnaout, towards the villages in the mountains, the silence was filled with ambulance sirens, the sound of helicopters and an impressive outpouring of solidarity.” He adds that he has “acquaintances, friends and craftsmen with whom I work on my artistic projects” who have been impacted by the earthquake. “It’s my duty to support them (and each other).”
Morocco’s institutions have been quick to act on the crisis, prioritising aid for local communities. The Fondation Jardin Majorelle, which oversees the Yves Saint Laurent Museum and Musée Pierre Bergé des Arts Berbères, has donated 1m Dirhams (around £220,000) towards the government’s Special Fund 126—set up primarily “to rehabilitate and support efforts to rebuild homes”—and its staff have organised a blood drive. The commercial gallery Comptoir des Mines worked with its collectors to raise €100,000 to help rebuild a Dar Taliba building—a "home for female students"—with more fundraising planned. And Alliances Group, the organisation behind the Museum of African Contemporary Art Al Maaden (Macaal), has financially supported 100 new housing units and the reconstruction of a school.
On 28 October, in Morocco’s capital Rabat, a host of artists, galleries and art professionals contributed to an auction at the Mohammed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, which raised £542,000 for Special Fund 126. On 7 December, the organisers will hold another in Casablanca.
The 1-54 Art Fair and the collective Artists for Morocco, meanwhile, have been key players. Artists for Morocco was launched by Samira Larouci, the editor-at-large of GQ Middle East, the photographer Anass Ouaziz and the designer Ismail Elaaddioui after the earthquake. In the immediate aftermath, it launched an ongoing sale of prints by artists including Yto Barrada and Meriem Bennani. It has raised around €210,000 to date, with profits going towards two NGOs: Amal Women’s Training Center, a women’s charity delivering food, and Rif Tribes Foundation, which focuses on bringing support to remote villages.
Larouci’s team has also been collaborating with Rif Tribes on the ground to support long-term infrastructural development, including supporting the construction of a school with a shelter incorporated. They have worked on getting resources to those who need them, too: to date, they have provided 32 tonnes of aid to 2,767 people across 16 affected villages—supplying tents, mattresses, blankets, food, grains, hygiene products, sweets and toys.
Larouci emphasises the extent of the damage to Indigenous Amazigh communities in the mountains. “It was devastating because this isn't just a few cracks in people's buildings. Entire structures are gone, history gone, families gone, generations gone, local mosques gone”. Such was the demand for electricity, water and other essentials that, to try and bolster support, her collective has quadrupled both in staff and in the volume of prints produced. The print sales, she says, have exemplified “art's ability to heal”, and going forward she hopes to “find a way in which to integrate global artists into the Moroccan community”, while also encouraging access to art and promoting the work of local practitioners internationally.
Touria El Glaoui, the founding director of 1-54, explains that the fair has taken similar approaches to providing aid. The team worked with the Moroccan artist Hassan Hajaj to place his print Love Maroc at a day sale at Christie’s in October, which raised more than £18,000 for the Assafou Association, a non-profit organisation focused on education for children and women in rural communities in the Atlas Mountains. A limited run of a print by the artist titled Keshmara has since gone on sale online. It is available from £900 or via a give-what-you-want policy for those who wish to give more. The London edition of 1-54 also donated 10% of its ticket sale income as well as all revenue from merchandise. This year's courtyard commission held a particular resonance, too: created by the Moroccan artist Amine El Gotaibi, it was in the final stages of development when the earthquake hit.
El Glaoui said that she hoped to organise further “activations” in the new year, including at 1-54’s edition in Marrakech, but warned of the risks of a fast-moving news cycle. “We are really trying to remind people that this is still going on, but it's not an easy discussion to have right now, because there are so many other, more fresh catastrophes.”
Both Larouci and El Glaoui emphasise the importance of continued work as the colder months approach. El Glaoui says: “In the five villages I’ve visited, half of the people live in tents now, so they don’t have a hard construction above their head… You can’t rebuild a village in a few weeks; it is more about how we can support them to pass the winter having [what they need].”
To reserve an edition of Hassan Hajjaj's Keshmara (2010), contact email@example.com