The art that's like a thousand stories

Published 17th May 2016
The art that's like a thousand stories
Written by By Tom Bouchier HayesTom Page, CNN
Morocco has an oral culture when it comes to telling stories -- a tradition that is becoming disrupted by modernity and, argues Sara Ouhaddou, prosperity.
Ouhaddou, a French artist who lives and works in Marrakesh and Paris, finds inspiration in Morocco's ancient storytelling traditions. Earlier this year, her work was featured in the Marrakech Biennale.
"For my part (storytelling) is something I get from my family," Ouhaddou explains. "Maybe we also understood that (our) storytelling heritage was an oral heritage, so if we don't keep saying it it's going to be lost.
"For our parents it wasn't a problem that it was lost because they wanted something else. They were preoccupied with having a better life, but for us because they solved those problems. We are more about solving the cultural problems."
Ouhaddou is therefore transmuting oral tradition into physical forms. The artist looked to the 1960s notebooks of Moroccan filmmaker and writer Ahmed Bouanani, which contained drawings of traditional jewelry from the Atlas and the pre-Sahara South, as well as many popular Moroccan tales.
Master storyteller preserves Moroccan history
Her interpretation of classic stories was on show at Marrakech's stunning Bahia Palace. Combining two aspects of Bouanani's notebooks she presented at the biennial a well-known Moroccan fable involving an ogre, a princess, a hero and a haphazard rescue plan, with 700 individual ceramic pieces, fragments of imagination, sewn to a carpet with silk thread.
"Yes there is a morality but there is also heritage: where we live, about how we behave, tradition we have and we have to keep," she says. "The names, the customs, maybe the imagery is Oriental for sure... but for the meanings, they are universal."
Made in collaboration with craftsmen and craftswomen the artist puts much stock in traditional methods -- fitting considering what they are trying to translate. In doing so Ouhaddou and her fellow artists at the biennial are proving there is more than one method to passing on culture, whilst augmenting it in the process.
So is she part of a new breed of storyteller?
"I think we are modern story tellers," she argues. "Being a storyteller with craftsmen helped a lot to revive the imagination."
"It's a beautiful description. I love that description."