Mapping Morocco through portraits

CNN  — 

Photography has, traditionally, been a somewhat contentious art form in Morocco. Design, architecture, fashion – these are areas where the country shines. Photographs, however, seem to make many Moroccans uncomfortable.

“There’s no way I can take a camera and just do street photography in Morocco. People will get aggressive,” says Leila Alaoui, a French-Moroccan photographer who is making waves with her striking portraits. The reasons, she notes, are myriad, and range from superstition to feelings of being exploited.

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Morocco's vibrant art scene
08:12 - Source: CNN

“There is an association with witchcraft and there’s this kind of fear that if someone takes your photo, they can use it after and put a spell on you,” she admits.

“The second reason is I think people are getting tired of European tourists coming in and taking photos of exotic Morocco. People feel like they’re being a bit used.”

As a result, Alaoui says it takes her time to get locals to pose for her.

“It takes so much time to convince people. As a photographer it’s really difficult to photograph in Morocco.”

Slowly, the country is starting to open up, particularly in the realm of the arts. Last year, the country saw the launch of its first museum for modern and contemporary art – The Mohammed VI Museum – in the capital city of Rabat.

Davis Knaus, the managing director of The Marrakesh Museum for Photography and Visual Arts – which opened in 2013 – says that the younger generation are showing a greater interest in the arts.

“The young generation, they want to own their culture. I don’t think there’s ever been value put in Morocco and lots of Africa on owning your contemporary culture. All that has changed now and these kids want to own it,” he says.