Celebration of Film, Art and Literature in Marrakech

Marrakech is well-known as a cultural hot-spot in Morocco, and from the 29th of February through to the 3rd of June 2012 the city hosted the 4th edition of the Marrakech Biennale under the banner of Free Thinking Surrender. The program featured key local and international personalities in literature, film and visual arts, with talks, debates, public screenings and performances taking place at various venues in Marrakech. Collaborating with local educational institutions and traditional crafts people, the festival promotes Morocco, and Marrakech in particular, as having a cultural identity that holds true to its roots, while having international relevance.

One of the highlights of the program was the exhibition Higher Atlas curated by Nadim Samman and Carson Chan. With the Higher Atlas Mountains visible from all the festival’s venues, the exhibition, which featured the work of 37 participants, was presented as a starting point for both physical and virtual trips into the cultural and natural treasures of Morocco. Among the venues taking part in the Marrakech Biennale were the Théatre Royal, the Cyber Parc Arsat Moulay Abdeslam, Dar Al-Ma’mun, Bank Al Maghrib and Koutoubia Cisterns. There were more than forty participants in the Visual Arts category, with the Film category including prominent personalities such as BBC executive and presenter Alan Yentob, English novelist and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, and Moroccan film director, actor, screenwriter and artist Faouzi Bensaïdi. Literature participants included Ben Okri (Nigeria), Driss Ksikes (Morocco), Geoff Dyer (UK), Rian Malan (South Africa) and Pankaj Mishra (India).

Formerly known as the Arts in Marrakech Festival, the Marrakech Biennale was founded by Vanessa Branson and Abel Damoussi, and first took place in September 2005. Focusing on contemporary visual art, film and literature, and presented in Arabic, French and English, the festival was the first major trilingual event to be staged in North Africa – and it was a success. Building on that success, the second edition took place in 2007, with the number of participants and attendees growing. The main visual arts exhibition focused on South African photography and the project L’appartement 22, with participating venues including the Marrakech Museum, the Royal Theatre, and the ESAV Film School.

In 2009, the third edition of the festival took place in November, coordinated by Clare Azzougarh and directed by Vanessa Branson (sister of the business-tycoon adventurer Richard Branson). By now the Biennale had built a solid reputation in art, film and literary circles, with participation and attendance increasing yet again. The main visual arts exhibition, entitled A Proposal for Articulating Works and Places, was held in the Palais Bahia and featured the debut works of French-born Moroccan resident Yto Barrada, and Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, among others.

The next Marrakech Biennale will most likely take place two years from now. Visitors who want an extra dose of Moroccan culture, along with international artistic elements, will certainly appreciate the efforts of the talented and creative participants in this event.